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At a glance
Among the 2013 James Beard restaurant and chef award winners: National chef awards
Outstanding restaurant: Blue Hill in New York City
Outstanding chef: David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City and Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago
Best new restaurant: State Bird Provisions in San Francisco
Outstanding wine program: Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo.
Outstanding bar program: The Aviary in Chicago
Outstanding pastry chef: Brooks Headley of Del Posto in New York City
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York City Regional chef awards
Great Lakes: Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat in Chicago
Mid-Atlantic: Johnny Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C.
Midwest: Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo.
New York City: Wylie Dufresne of wd-50
Northeast: Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, Maine
Northwest: Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore.
South: Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans
Southeast: Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
Southwest: Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver
West: Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif. Honorary awards
James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award: Cecilia Chiang, chef and restaurateur, San Francisco
James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year: Emeril Lagasse, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, New Orleans
Associated Press
David Chang was named an outstanding chef by the James Beard Foundation.

2nd-career chefs split Beard honor

– Food may not have been their first calling, but coming late to the culinary scene clearly hasn’t slowed David Chang and Paul Kahan.

On Monday, the two were jointly honored as the nation’s most outstanding chefs by the James Beard Foundation, an exclamation point on circuitous careers that began in other fields – Chang in finance and Kahan in computer science – but saw them quickly ascend to the top of the restaurant world.

The men – only the third pair to tie for the top chef award in the foundation’s history – have been lauded as restaurant revolutionaries. Chang’s edgy, in-your-face style – not to mention a deft hand with steamed pork buns – has spawned a global empire of media and restaurants, including New York’s Momofuku Ko and Ma Peche – some of the hottest, hard-to-get tables in the city.

“I grew up dreaming what it might be like to do this and how impossible it might be,” said Chang, who said he has idolized Kahan for years. “I’m really, truly honored. A tie could not have been better because I’m glad I’m not up here by myself.”

Chang owes his second career largely to an obsession with ramen noodles, which led him to Tokyo and eventually back to school for a culinary degree (his first had been in religion). By 2004, he opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and accolades piled up. New York Times critic Frank Bruni even called Chang “the New York restaurant world’s equivalent of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.”

Kahan is at the forefront of Chicago’s increasingly robust restaurant scene. After leaving computer science, he spent years apprenticing to some of the city’s top talent, including Rick Bayless. He spun that experience into an award-winning restaurant group that includes Blackbird, Avec and The Publican, all of which reflect his own culinary obsession – sustainably sourced ingredients and close relationships with producers.

“You can’t beat Chang, but a tie is OK,” Kahan said.

The James Beard awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985. Monday’s ceremony honored chefs and restaurants; a similar event on Friday was held for book and other media awards. Previous ties for the outstanding chef award went to Larry Forgione and Jean-Louis Palladin in 1993, and Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in 1998.

Chang has won three previous Beard awards, including for best new restaurant for Momofuku Ko in 2009 and rising star chef in 2007. Kahan was named a regional best chef in 2004. Both men lost out for the same honor last year to Daniel Humm, the chef behind New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

The foundation’s top restaurant award this year went to Dan Barber’s Blue Hill in New York City. Barber – who was the foundation’s top chef in 2009 – follows a minimalist culinary philosophy that he calls “American seasonal.” He believes exceptional ingredients should be allowed to stand on their own. A signature dish is “vegetables on a fence,” baby vegetables simply prepared and presented speared on a row of upright prongs.

“I feel like the luckiest chef in America today,” Barber said. He jokingly credited his restaurant’s success in part to the difficulty of finding it on New York’s back streets. “They are so much hungrier than they would have been,” he said. “I have this feeling, this conviction that the food tastes better than it otherwise would.”