Restaurants and bars in New Orleans had another reason to let les bon temps roule this week, as some of their own won big at the James Beard Awards in Chicago this week. Known as the Oscars of the food & beverage world, the annual event nearly always features a few New Orleans faces.
This year, 11 nominees hailed from the Big Easy. The creative minds behind Arnaud’s French 75, Shaya, and Herbsaint were honored on the national stage, each going home with a bronze bald-headed Beard medal all their own. NoDef spoke to the winners in their post-victory glow to get their thoughts about the awards this year and the new feather in their collective cap.
BEST CHEF – SOUTH
Rebecca Wilcomb, Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave.)
Herbsaint, the flagship operation of Donald Link’s restaurant group, is a local as well as national favorite. The St. Charles hot spot's Chef de Cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and works closely with local farmers and fishermen to create inspired takes on Southern French food with Italian and Spanish flair.
The restaurant earned Chef Donald Link a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South in 2007, and now, a decade later, Wilcomb has followed in his footsteps. Asked about how the May 1st honor has affected her, she was all adjectives: “Shocked. Overwhelmed. Excited. I think I’m still processing it!”
Regarding the relationship she has with Donald Link (who coincidentally was nominated for Outstanding Chef this year), Wilcomb had high praise for him and her experience in New Orleans since she arrived here in 2008. “He’s shown me how to believe in myself, to have the confidence to cook the kind of food I want to cook, it’s a great relationship,” she explained.
And on the city as whole? “New Orleans is a special place,” Wilcomb said. “People have a connection to food, and restaurants are part of the community. This city is incredible and the world should know about it.”