Beard Predictions: Best Chef, New York

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Throughout the day, Grub Street will post its predictions for tonight's James Beard Awards. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees.

Best Chef, New York
"Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Each candidate may be employed by any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for at least the past 5 years. The 3 most recent years must have been spent in the region where the chef is presently working." Recent winners include Gabriel Kreuther (the Modern), David Chang (Momofuku Ssam), and David Waltuck (Chanterelle).

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern
For Him: Gramercy Tavern is the city’s unofficial official restaurant — pretty much everyone has passed through it, hence Anthony’s nominations for Best Chef in 2008 and 2009.
Against Him: Anthony is up against fellow Union Square Hospitality Group chef Daniel Humm, who won four stars from Frank Bruni last year. If he couldn’t beat out his other USHG colleague Kreuther last year, chances are slim he can best Humm.

Wylie Dufresne, wd~50
For Him: Despite being nominated for Best Chef three previous times in a row (and for Best New Restaurant in 2004), the face of American molecular gastronomy (or whatever you want to call it) has never taken home an Uncle Fester, which you’d think would be a gimme for this kind of chef’s chef. It’s widely thought that wd~50 has been struggling to survive — Wylie needs this more than, say, Michael Anthony. Judges may also vote for him in order to thumb their nose at the comfort-food trend.
Against Him: His recent turns in the world of reality TV probably haven’t diminished his credibility (he didn’t make too much of an ass out of himself), but we’ll throw it out there anyway. Also, don’t underestimate the molecular-gastronomy haters.

Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune
For Her: Hamilton has stayed steadfastly tied to her kitchen while other chefs pursue gigs on the Food Network and Home Shopping Channel. In fact, her only big media gambit has been a forthcoming memoir (no shame in that game). She was David Chang before David Chang — a hard-nosed East Village chef running her own place her own way, and making food that cool kids lined up to eat. Even after last year’s “Women in Food” event, the Beards have been criticized for leaning toward men (only two women emerged victorious last year), and this may be the year judges decide to remedy that.
Against Her: While Prune is loved by foodies and regulars, it hasn’t won the sort of critical praise that Beards are made of — it’s a “Bib Gourmand” pick in Michelin, and Frank Bruni gave it a lone star when he reviewed it in 2005. Not much has changed there since then.

Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park
For Him: Humm is still riding the high of the four-star Bruni review that made it clear he had elevated Eleven Mad to one of the top six restaurants in the city. Momentum is certainly in his favor, and by now enough judges have passed through the doors of EMP that his chances of winning are very good indeed.
Against Him: Humm, who has been nominated for Rising Star Chef three times, may be too young to prevail over someone like Wylie Dufresne, who has also been nominated three times, but in the Best Chef category. Judges may decide to let him sweat it out for another year or two.

Michael White, Marea, Convivio, Alto
For Him: White is beloved by fellow chefs and critics, and Marea has become a staple on “Best Of” lists. In fact, of the toques up for Best Chef, White is the only one with an establishment that is also up for Best New Restaurant.
Against Him: Though Fiamma was nominated for a Best New Restaurant in 2003, White has never been nominated as a chef. Now that he's hard at work expanding his empire (he told Crain’s he wanted revenues of $100 million, and he’s currently angling for a hotel project), it’s possible the judges will hold his bullishness against him, or wait and see how his next projects do.

Grub Street Predicts: Daniel Humm
It’s tempting to say that judges will want to break up the Meyer mafia (Daniel Gabriel Kreuther of the Modern took home this honor last year) and finally hand the award to Wylie (always a groomsman but never a groom). But it’s safe to say more judges have been through Eleven Madison Park’s doors than wd~50’s or Marea’s in recent years, and to go there is to love it.

Additional reporting by Helen Rosner.

Read all of Grub Street's Beard predictions.