Few awards mean more to a chef than a James Beard Foundation Award. But it can be particularly meaningful for those chefs who have grown with a restaurant for more than 10 years — an accolade saved for the Outstanding Restaurant Award, presented by Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water.
This year’s nominees run the spectrum of location and cuisine: August in New Orleans; Blue Hill in New York City; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Spiaggia in Chicago. We teamed up with Acqua Panna to go to each restaurant, share a meal, and discuss with each chef how their restaurants have maintained their quality and continually evolved over the years.
After our initial stops at Blue Hill and Spiaggia, we next made our way to New Orleans to visit August, the locally inspired contemporary French restaurant from John Besh. The restaurant has been an essential part of the New Orleans dining scene since 2001. Besh has already won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast and August has already been a semi-finalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category.
At my recent meal I was treated to items from August's menu that were both classic and new, ranging from the gnocchi with blue crab and black truffle to the spring-inspired fried oysters with green garlic, red pepper aioli, and blue cheese. At August you truly feel that each ingredient is celebrated, from the crawfish to the morels.
We sat down with Besh to discuss how the restaurant has changed since it opened 12 years ago. While most restaurants naturally evolve over time, Besh believes that events in New Orleans like Hurricane Katrina particularly changed August. As he says, "Almost as an act of defiance, even our cuisine has become a lot more local, a lot more civically charged if you will because we’re so concerned with keeping our identity... And I think August has done a great job of taking that banner of New Orleans cooking and ushered right into this next phase of evolution of this wonderful city. The menus have gone from everything having to have foie gras and truffles on it to now being just so deeply rooted in place. That’s what I’m most proud of."
For more from Besh, watch the video above! And make sure to look out next week for our trip to Birmingham, Ala., to visit Frank Stitt's Highland Bar and Grill.