Charleston’s Sean Brock doesn’t quite win top James Beard award

By Ashley Barker
Published May 6, 2014

The James Beard Foundation presented the Outstanding Chef award on Monday night to a Los Angeles chef instead of Charleston chef Sean Brock.

Nancy Silverton, who specializes in contemporary Italian dishes at Pizzeria Mozza, became the fourth woman to win the foundation’s biggest award of the night.

She beat Brock — chef partner of Lowcountry restaurants McCrady’s and Husk — and the other finalists Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern in New York City; Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles; David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif.; and Marc Vetri of Vetri in Philadelphia.

Charleston chef Sean Brock won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Southeast title in 2010 but lost in this year’s Outstanding Chef category. (Photo provided)
Charleston chef Sean Brock won the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the Southeast title in 2010 but lost in this year’s Outstanding Chef category. (Photo provided)
The nominees are chefs working in America whose careers have set national industry standards and who have served as inspirations to other food professionals, according to the James Beard Foundation. Candidates have worked as chefs for at least the past five years.

The nomination was Brock’s second for the Outstanding Chef category. He won the foundation’s Best Chef in the Southeast title in 2010.

In April, Brock said the nomination was a special moment, but he didn’t expect to win.

“This is a lifetime achievement kind of award. I’m much too young and inexperienced for a lifetime achievement award,” Brock said. “I’m not there yet; I enjoy chasing it.”

He said being recognized by his peers in the culinary world is inspirational because it makes him want to work harder to inspire others.

“Once you find yourself in a situation like that, you kind of switch into reflective mode and you take a step back. You look at things a little bit differently, and you think on a different level during those moments,” Brock said.

On the way to New York City for the awards ceremony, Brock mentored Minneapolis restaurateur Irina Vishnevskaya while traveling with Delta Air Lines Inc.

The airline recently created a mentoring program that pairs experts from various industries with enthusiastic “up and coming doers and innovators” for a one-on-one class at an altitude of 35,000 feet.

The Delta Innovation Class selected Brock as its second expert to become a mentor, behind only Eric Migicovsky, creator of the Pebble smart watch.

“Maybe they were looking for someone in the restaurant industry that had something to say and has some influence,” Brock said.

As a chef, his message is centered on the history and production of Southern food, not just how to cook it and market it in a restaurant.

“I think that was kind of attractive to them. It would be a conversation that would be beyond just cuisine and the industry, a conversation about food,” Brock said prior to the flight.

During the past two years, Brock has traveled to every continent except Antarctica to speak about Southern food or to do research on nearly extinct crops that were once grown in the South.

“I fly a lot with Delta, and I meet all kinds of people. I’ve met some people along the way that have influenced me and have taught me lessons,” Brock said. “I just thought Delta had a brilliant idea to take that time — if it’s two hours or three hours — where you have somebody’s undivided attention.”

Brock has a cookbook titled Heritage due out in the fall, and a new Mexican-inspired restaurant on East Bay Street is set to open in the summer. The restaurant, which hasn’t been named yet, will be adjacent to McCrady’s but is expected to be more affordable and casual.

McCrady’s was included as a semifinalist in the Outstanding Service category. But it didn’t advance to the finalist level.

On Friday, the foundation presented the broadcast award for best on-location television program to The Mind of a Chef. The PBS program, which is hosted by Anthony Bourdain, features Brock and British chef April Bloomfield. The show beat other PBS network shows A Chef’s Life and Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom and Independence.

Brock and Bloomfield are also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for their work on The Mind of a Chef. The 41st annual Daytime Emmy Awards will be presented on June 22, and Brock will compete against Food Network stars Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray.

The James Beard Foundation’s award for Outstanding Wine Program was given to The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. Finalists for that award included Charleston’s FIG restaurant on Meeting Street, as well as A16 in San Francisco, Bar Boulud in New York City and The Little Nell in Aspen, Colo.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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