I'll Bite

A Charlotte-eye view of the James Beard Awards

A smart viewer grabs a box of Chicago mix (cheese and caramel) popcorn to sustain you through the 3-hour awards show.
A smart viewer grabs a box of Chicago mix (cheese and caramel) popcorn to sustain you through the 3-hour awards show. Kathleen Purvis

Yes, the James Beard Foundation is based in New York. And yes, the annual awards gala is now in Chicago (and will be through 2021).

Still, there are a few things Charlotte might find interesting. I’ve been a volunteer for the foundation (former chair of the Book Awards, founding chair of the Leadership Awards and now a special representative to the awards committee that oversees the whole she-bang), so by my count, this was my 17th time at the gala.

I grabbed a few pictures of the hoopla of Awards Day, the end of a weeklong run that starts in New York at the James Beard Media Awards, where they give out book, journalism and broadcast awards. (The big winner there: Ronni Lundy’s Appalachian foodways book “Victuals,” which includes a number of N.C. ties.)

You can get a list of all the winners here.

First, let’s start at the annual Southern Mafia party, put on by the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Billy Reid store:

Southern Foodways will come to Charlotte in June for its annual summer “field trip,” celebrating Latin American food in the South. They’re already celebrating, with a display of “El Sur” (The South) hats and shirts as soon as you walked in.

Get to know the guy in the pink jacket. That would be John T. Edge, founder of Southern Foodways. He’s been popping up around Charlotte for months while his team puts together the Charlotte event, which will include cooking by Paul Verica and Joe Kindred. Kindred took Edge to SavWay on Central Avenue for the chorizo torta, who told me about it in turn.

Highlights on the menu at the Southern Mafia event: Green Bloody Marys (I loved the garnishes of fiddleheads, ramps and okra, but I can’t say I was a fan of holding a vivid green drink in a menswear store with racks of very expensive clothes.)

I was a fan, though, of the food from Southern-inspired Chicago restaurant Big Jones, which included a livermush tamale. Please, someone find me a livermush taco in Charlotte. It’s time.

Next stop: Saveur magazine’s JBF Pregame Lounge at the Park Hyatt. You could get blowouts, hot shaves, suit pressing and the one service I needed: Bow-tie tieing. Since “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson was hosting the awards, he had arranged for the sale of a James Beard-themed bow tie that raised money for LGBT causes. I bought one and then realized it came untied. So I stopped in for caviar, an Aperol spritz and a hand with my neckware.

Next, through the rain to the Lyric Opera House for the awards show. Smart people know to grab a box of popcorn (Chicago mix, with cheese and caramel corn, of course) before heading into the auditorium. The show starts at 6 p.m. and you don’t get anything to eat until after 9 p.m.

Having an actor host the awards could have been odd. But in this case, people who follow Ferguson on social media know that he’s a big fan of food and posts his own food and cooking adventures. Despite a few goofy costume-changes, like a red-flounce apron and his Mario Batali homage with orange Crocs, he was one of the best hosts I’ve seen in 17 years. At one point, he handed out raw vegetables in an homage to this year’s Oscars candy-drop (one presenter did pull the “And the winner is, ‘La La Land’” joke, which was a little tough on the actual winner).

While everyone competes to swap their kitchen uniforms for formal wear, my winner for best get-up was chef Art Smith, who presented the Humanitarian Award to One World Everybody Eats founder Denise Cerreta (including F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone) wearing a maximum-sparkle blue suit. Please, someone give him a mic and a backup band next year.

Finally, as always, when the awards ended at 9 p.m., a little earlier than the usual 9:15 or 9:30, 3,000 famished people hit the chefs’ tables at once, elbowing for anything to eat or drink. North Carolina’s Vivian Howard of the Chef & The Farmer in Kinston was one of the first tables in front of the auditorium doors, ready to go with her dish, The Rooster, oysters on her house-made pork rinds with a horseradish topping.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis