NEW YORK May 8 (Reuters Life!) - French chef Michel Richard, a pioneer in mixing French and Californian cuisine, has been named North America's chef of the year by the United State's most prestigious culinary organization.
The James Beard Foundation Awards, now in their 17th year and known as "the Oscars of the food world," are designed to recognize excellence and achievement in the culinary profession with more than 60 awards presented each year.
Alongside Richard who runs his flagship restaurant Citronelle in Washington, D.C., the foundation named Chicago's Frontera Grill, a pioneering Mexican eatery owned by Rick and Deann Bayless, as the outstanding restaurant of the year.
"Winning a James Beard Foundation award is like taking home an Olympic gold medal, a Pulitzer or a Grammy," said Susan Ungaro, president of the non-profit foundation, in a statement.
"For many, being selected by their peers is confirmation of achievement of excellence, marking the pinnacle of their careers."
New York's L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, a haute cuisine restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, was named Best New Restaurant while chef Thomas Keller received the award for Outstanding Restaurateur for The French Laundry in California's Napa Valley.
David Chang, chef and co-owner of Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan, was named the 30-and-under rising star of the year.
The awards, presented at a gala in New York on Monday night, honor professionals including book authors, chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers, journalists, broadcasters, and restaurant and graphic designers in North America.
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by brother Matt and Ted Lee, won the award for the Cookbook of the Year for their interpretations of U.S. southern cuisine.
To select the nominees and winners, independent volunteer panels of more than 600 food and beverage professionals from around the country vote on specific award categories.
The trustees and staff of the James Beard Foundation that was formed in 1986 do not vote and independent accounting firm Lutz & Carr tabulates ballots.
Winners of the awards receive a bronze medallion engraved with the image of James Beard, the late journalist, cookbook author, chef, and cooking teacher.