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Austinites Paul Qui, Jeff Scott win coveted James Beard Awards

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

It was an unprecedented year for Austin at this year's James Beard Foundation Awards.

On Monday, Paul Qui, executive chef of Uchiko and recent winner of "Top Chef: Texas," accomplished what it took his mentor, Tyson Cole, four nominations to do: Win a James Beard Award, which is considered the highest honor a chef can receive in the U.S.

Cole's tie last year for Best Chef: Southwest marked the first time an Austin chef had won, and back-to-back wins for chefs from not only the same city but the same restaurant group are rare.

Alton Brown hosted the glitzy ceremonies in New York City, which included a press room that "only Dante would have words sufficient to describe," according to AP food writer J.M. Hirsch. The Empire State building was lit with yellow and orange in honor of the favorite foods (pineapples and tomato soup) of Beard, a legendary food writer who inspired the awards, which are now in their 25th year.

Qui, a first-time nominee, was up against five other chefs, including three from Texas: Bruno Davaillon of Mansion Restaurant at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks in San Antonio, and Hugo Ortega of Hugo's in Houston.

Qui accepted the award by thanking his girlfriend, Deana Saukam, and the staff ("my boys") at both Uchiko and Uchi, as well as those at East Side King, his trio of food trailers.

On Friday night, another Austinite, Jeff Scott, won the James Beard Foundation Award for best photography at a separate ceremony for the book, broadcast and journalism awards. His book, "Notes From a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession," is a 1,000-page, two-volume, self-published look into the creative process and culinary obsessions of several noted chefs: Georges Mendes, Johnny Iuzzini and Sean Brock.

Other big winners this year include Nathan Myhrvold's "Modernist Cuisine," which won Cookbook of the Year, and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, who won the Rising Star Chef award. The foundation's outstanding chef award went to Daniel Humm, the chef behind New York's Eleven Madison Park. Humm, a native of Switzerland, has spent his career amassing awards. Most recently, his restaurant — which has four stars from The New York Times and three from the Michelin Guide — was named No. 10 in the world by Restaurant magazine.

Humm beat out Chang, Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, Paul Kahan in Chicago, Donald Link of Herbsaint in New Orleans and Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. Last year's winner was Jose Andres, the man credited with popularizing tapas in the United States.

Boulevard restaurant in San Francisco was named outstanding restaurant of the year. Opened by chef Nancy Oakes on the San Francisco waterfront in 1993, Boulevard's cuisine blends regional American cooking with French style. Last year's outstanding restaurant honor went to Eleven Madison Park. The best new restaurant award went to Grant Achatz' second — and wildly different — Chicago restaurant, Next.

The group's Lifetime Achievement award this year went to Wolfgang Puck, the pioneer of California cuisine whose menu for the annual Academy Awards Governors Ball is almost as eagerly anticipated as the awards themselves. Puck has won multiple honors from the foundation over the years and is the only chef to have twice received its Most Outstanding Chef award.

The organization's Humanitarian of the Year honor went to Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who earlier this year announced that he will close his acclaimed eponymous restaurant after it celebrates its 25th anniversary in August. Trotter plans to return to school to earn a master's degree in philosophy.

Additional material from the Associated Press