Except on a bookshelf, such a gathering has probably never been under one roof. The Cook's Magazine was honoring the 50 chefs, food producers, vintners and authors it elected as the Who's Who of Cooking in America, and 47 of them showed up Thursday for a party at the Abigail Adams Smith Museum in New York.
Rare enough it was to see Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Alice Waters, Robert Mondavi, Wolfgang Puck and Marian Morash in one city, much less in one ballroom. And nearly half of the honorees had to come from California for the evening. In fact, not only half the award winners but a third of the seafoods -- Alaskan razor clams, Olympia oysters and the like -- flew in from the West Coast for the occasion. The buffet, like the guests, ranged from Deep South to New England.
The choice of the top 50 "who are leaders in the development of the new American cuisine" took most of this year. More than 800 names submitted by subscribers and readers were narrowed down by an advisory board and the magazine staff selected the 50. California had 22 recipients (plus Julia Child half-time), New York accounted for a dozen, and the rest were scattered throughout the country.
From the Washington area, Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington was honored. Bill Rice, former food editor of the Washington Post and now editor of Food and Wine magazine in New York, was on the list, as was Maurice DeSaulniers of The Trellis in Williamsburg.
Among the 20 runners-up were Washingtonians Margaret Engel, co-author of "Food Finds" and staff writer at the Washington Post, Nora Pouillon of Nora's restaurant and Jason Wolin of 209 1/2 and other Washington restaurants. The entire list will appear in this month's Cook's Magazine.
At the same time the awards were being made, they were the subject of conversation among New York food writers at a nearby party to celebrate the publication of Giuliano Bugialli's new Italian cookbook. It was said there that the Who's Who missed some crucially important people. And Cook's magazine was the subject of arch queries such as, "Who are they to decide who's who?"
However, even the critics recognized that the award raises consciousness of American culinary talent, besides being "a brilliant idea for the promotion of Cook's magazine," coincidentally timed just as Cuisine magazine has folded.