Hollywood has its Oscars. The television profession gives Emmys. Now the food world in this country has begun to honor its producers, chefs, vintners, writers and restaurateurs. The Cook's Magazine selected its second group of men and women this week for inclusion in its "Who's Who in American Cooking" at a gala dinner Thursday in New York at the Palladium, an immense New Wave nightclub on Manhattan's lower East Side.
It was a select group of honorees -- 25 food professionals chosen from more than 300 nominees considered by Criag Claiborne, Paul Prudhomme, Robert Mondavi and the 49 other award winners from last year.
Two of this year's winners are from Washington: Phyllis Richman, executive food editor and critic of The Washington Post, and food writer Ellen Brown, author of "Cooking with the New American Chefs."
Cooking expert Julia Child, who introduced several of the award-winners to the black-tie crowd of 600, said of Richman: "She produces one of the very best and most original food pages in the country."
Child praised Brown for originating the food page at USA Today and for highlighting the work of American chefs producing inventive new recipes.
Other honorees included food writer M.F.K. Fisher, one of the country's most prolific and respected essayists on food; Ferdinand Metz, president of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y.; Paul Kovi and Tom Margittai, co-owners of The Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, and Marian Burros, food columnist for The New York Times.
Cook's Magazine publisher Christopher Kimball said the awards were originated to encourage those responsible for developing and appreciating America's native cuisine.
"Last year everyone was talking about new American cooking," he said. "Now the awareness has grown that it's not just a trend and people simply refer to it as American cooking."
He added, "It's taken this country a long time to recognize its roots, but now that it has, the cuisine is flourishing."
In honor of the late James Beard, one of the initial honorees who died this year, the magazine created the James Beard Award for Special Achievement. It was awarded to Alice Waters, originator of the Chez Panisse and Chez Fanny restaurants in Berkeley, Calif., who is widely credited for sparking interest in California cuisine among a generation of young chefs and eaters.
Waters, who is on her honeymoon in Tuscany, sent a message conveying her thanks, noting that James Beard "expected great things and pushed you toward them. I feel he's still here looking on."
Several of the food experts present emphasized that interest in American food is not a fad.
Larry Forgione, chef at An American Place in New York, said, "The next step is to regain the culinary integrity of America. There are changes -- in my grandmother's day, she put on an apron in the morning and stayed in the kitchen all day. But there's a way to recapture quality without the same amount of time."
Paul Prudhomme, who wore his customary white scarf and black leather newsboy's cap, described American cuisine as "solid." He added, "It's not leaving next year or the year after."
Prudhomme's visit to New York was the first after his publicized run-in with city health inspectors over the opening of a temporary version in the Big Apple of his famed K-Paul Restaurant in New Orleans. Mayor Ed Koch settled that dispute after scores of disappointed restaurant-goers protested the department's failure to allow Prudhomme's restaurant to open. "You notice I'm only staying a day this time," he joked.
But Mayor Koch's only appearance was via a proclamation, declaring the day "Cooking in America Day."
Guests at the event feasted, of course, on American foods, such as Maytag Blue Cheese, from Newton, Iowa; New York State Foie Gras; American Spoon's Buffalo Sausage, from Michigan; and suckling pig from Campbell Farms in Vermont.
Those honored by the magazine included:
Joseph Baum, restaurant consultant, New York; Paul Bertolli, chef, Chez Panisse restaurant, Berkeley, Calif.; Ellen Brown, writer, Washington; Marian Burros, food columnist, The New York Times; Frieda Caplan, of Frieda's Finest/Produce Specialties, Los Angeles.
Donn Chappellet, president, Chappellet Vineyard, St. Helena, Calif.; Tom Chino, farm manager, Chino Nojo Inc. produce ranch, Del Mar, Calif; Jack Davies, managing director, Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga, Calif; Susan Feninger, chef, City Cafe-Border Grill, chef/co-owner City Restaurant, Los Angeles.; M.F.K. Fisher, writer, Glen Ellen, Calif.
Jerry Goldstein, marketing director, Acacia Winery, Napa, Calif.; Joyce Goldstein, chef/owner, Square One restaurant, San Francisco; Judith Jones, senior editor, Alfred A. Knopf, New York; Diana Kennedy, writer, Zitacaro, Michoacan, Mexico; Paul Kovi, co-owner, The Four Seasons restaurant, New York.
Sibella Kraus, produce buyer, Greenleaf Produce, San Francisco; John Mariani, writer, New York; Tom Margittai, co-owner, The Four Seasons restaurant, New York; Moncef Maddeb, chef/owner, L'Espalier Restaurant, Boston; Ferdinand Metz, president, The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Mary Sue Milliken, chef, City Cafe-Border Grill, chef/co-owner, City Restaurant, Los Angeles; Joseph Phelps, president, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, St. Helena, Calif.; Stephan Pyles, chef/co-owner, Routh Street Cafe, Dallas; Phyllis Richman, executive food editor and critic, The Washingon Post; James Villas, food and wine editor, Town & Country Magazine, New York, N.Y.