An almost obsessive dedication to regional and seasonal foods has netted Dan Barber a first-ever culinary hat trick in the nation's top restaurant awards.
The James Beard Foundation on Monday named Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, the nation's top restaurant, giving him three of the group's highest national chef and restaurant honors in seven years.
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Barber, who is at the forefront of a movement to refocus how Americans think about sustainable food and agriculture, also was named the nation's top chef in 2009. And Blue Hill's sister restaurant, Blue Hill in New York City, was honored as the nation's best eatery in 2013.
Monday's win also marks the first time one chef has twice won outstanding restaurant.
Barber has been lauded for his "American seasonal" menus, which favor exceptional ingredients that have been carefully produced and minimally prepared. He opened the original Blue Hill in 2000 in Greenwich Village, then the Stone Barns outpost in 2004. The latter operates at the heart of a working four-season farm and education center dedicated to raising awareness of food sustainability issues.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which sources many of its ingredients from its own and nearby fields, offers no menus. Diners instead are served a selection of foods prepared at their peak seasonality.
The awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of James Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985. Monday's ceremony marked the foundation's 25th year of recognizing the food world's top talent. The event, held at Chicago's Lyric Opera, also was the first time it was held outside New York City. A similar gala on April 24 was held in New York for book and media awards.
Barber also was honored during the April ceremony. His 2014 book, "The Third Plate" — a call to action over the state of American agriculture — won for writing and literature. He also has an earlier regional honor from the group — top New York City chef in 2006.
Though the awards ceremony moved to Chicago, the foundation seemed to pine for New York. Most of the top tier honors went to restaurants and chefs in the Big Apple. Outstanding chef went to Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern; Christina Tosi of Momofuku took outstanding pastry chef; and best new restaurant was Markus Glocker's Batard.
Like Barber, Anthony has been praised for a fierce dedication to serving seasonal foods. In fact, he worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns until moving to Gramercy Tavern in 2006. Two years later, the restaurant — which opened in 1994 — won the foundation's top restaurant award.
Among the outliers from the New York crowd was Chicago restaurateur Donnie Madia, owner of One Off Hospitality Group, the force behind many of the city's top restaurants, including Blackbird, avec, The Publican, The Violet Hour, Publican Quality Meats and Nico Osteria. He won top restaurateur. Jessica Largey of Manresa in Los Gatos, California, won rising star chef of the year.
The group's Lifetime Achievement award went to Richard Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based corporation that operates more than 100 restaurants around the country.
The Humanitarian of the Year honor went to Michel Nischan, another leading chef in the sustainable food movement. In 2007, he cofounded Wholesome Wave, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, organization working to improve access to healthy, affordable fresh food.
The Beard Foundation also named its top regional chefs around the country: Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland (Great Lakes); Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore (Mid-Atlantic); Gerard Craft of Niche of Clayton, Missouri (Midwest); Mark Ladner of Del Posto (New York City); Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Northeast); Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island in Lummi Island, Washington (Northwest); Alon Shaya of Domenica in New Orleans (South); Jason Stanhope of FIG in Charleston, South Carolina (Southeast); Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin (Southwest); and Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco (West).
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch