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James Beard’s New York State of Mind

If there’s anything that last night’s James Beard Foundation Awards taught us, it’s that for the hoi polloi of the food community, there are only really one city that matters: New York.

In the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York, with Oliver Platt guiding the show as master of ceremonies, seven of the twelve awards that were not regional, and three of the six Who’s Who inductees were based in NYC.

In total, twelve non-regional awards and six Who’s Who awards were given. Of those, New York is home to eight outright winners, San Francisco boasts four, while Chicago has two. New York shared the award for Rising Star with San Francisco (Danny Bowien is bi-coastal), and Outstanding Chef was shared between New York and Chicago chefs, David Chang and Paul Kahan. The five remaining awards went to Boulder, Colo., Sebastapol, Calif., Miami, Boston, and Washington D.C.

Click this link for the complete list of 2013 James Beard Foundation Award Winners. Every single winner thoroughly deserves his or her award, and it represents the culmination of years, decades, or a lifetime of a single-minded focus on excellence.

Most foodies will, often reluctantly, admit that New York is home to some of the best dining in the world, but it sticks in the craw of most of us that out of 20 awards, half wound up in a tiny patch of over-priced real estate.

Sure, the Beard Foundation give prizes to outstanding chefs in their ten regional categories, but for whatever reason the James Beard Foundation chose, the 303 square miles of New York’s Five Boroughs get a regional category all by themself. The South East region, which for the Beard Foundation’s purposes comprises Georgia, Kentucky, both Carolinas, Tennessee, and West Virginia, covers roughly 252,047 square miles. Or, to put it another way, it’s more than 830 times the size of NYC.

Give or take a few thousand people, the South East is populated by 37 million people compared to the approximately 8 million who live in New York City. And when it comes to full service restaurants, the South East with more than 25,000 eateries, beats New York’s 4,245. And yes, I understand that NYC has 14 restaurants per square mile while the South East has one restaurant for every ten square miles, but density is no guarantee of quality.

I’m not saying that New York City doesn’t deserve the accolades its restaurants receive, I’m saying that based on the math it doesn’t warrant special treatment and a category all to itself.

Perhaps the good people at the James Beard Foundation are unaware of the food revolution that’s going on in Asheville, Nashville, Charleston, Atlanta, and Memphis, to name a handful of cities in that sprawling South East region. The South East has amazing restaurants that can go toe-to-toe with anything you can name in the Five Boroughs, and if you want proof, just check out this non-exhaustive list:

Asheville
Bouchon, 131 Main, Laughing Seed, Plant, Table, Seven Sows, and The Blackbird.

Nashville
The Catbird Seat, Silly Goose, Cafe Bosna, Yellow Porch, 12 South Taproom, and Lugo’s

Charleston
Two Boroughs Larder, McCrady’s, Husk, Fig, Hominy Grill, Jestine’s Kitchen, and S.N.O.B.

Atlanta
Empire State South, Miller Union, Bacchanalia, Canoe, 4th and Swift, Abattoir, Woodfire Grill, The Optimist, Local Three, and the highly anticipated Staplehouse.

Memphis
Restaurant Iris, Deja Vu, ACRE, Paulette’s, McEwen’s on Monroe, Elegant Farmer, and Four Way Restaurant

So we love what you do to bring recognition to restaurants, and chefs, and the amazing food and drink we have in this beautiful, diverse land of mountains, deserts, rivers, forests, canyons, farms, and cities. But maybe it’s time to take a look at what’s going on in the 3,793,780 square miles that aren’t New York City.

You might be surprised.