The 2010 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards

Time magazine called the James Beard Foundation awards "the Oscars of the food world," and that's about right: The event is high stakes, star-studded, self-celebratory, and very, very long. The event's gracious (and alarmingly skinny) emcee Alton Brown had a running gag about slogging through the 17-page schedule of events that turned out to be not so much of a running gag as an accurate ongoing update. (Final time of last night's event at New York's Lincoln Center clocked in at around three hours.)

The high-profile winners were not surprises: NYC-based Tom Colicchio won for Outstanding Chef (in his acceptance speech he thanked immigrants, because "without them, we wouldn't have a [food] industry.") Others included NYC-based Marea for Best New Restaurant, NYC-based Daniel for Outstanding Restaurant, and the NYC-based Keith McNally for Outstanding Restaurateur. (To be fair: New York City is very very large and is known for having a number of decent restaurants, and Chicago-based Alinea took the Outstanding Service Award.)

Food celebs in attendance were legitimately too numerous to mention, but this writer very much enjoyed the initial shock of seeing someone turn up wearing orange Crocs, only to look up and realize that it was Mario Batali.

Of course, the truly fun part of an awards ceremony is when people are genuinely floored for some reason. Often because they are truly surprised, but sometimes because once they take the podium and stare out at the warmly approving tuxedo- and fancy dress-clad masses, the honor of the thing just hits home. Some of the best unscripted moments of the night:

"Wow, that was awesome. Looks like I'm gonna have to start raising prices tomorrow," (Mark Kotlick of Calumet Fisheries), "I can't feel my feet," (Bernard Sun of Jean Georges, NYC), "I might throw up," (Michael Schwartz of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink of Miami), and, of course: "Holy shit. Does anybody got a flask?" (authored on the fly by the genuinely verklempt Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina).

Lincoln Center image source: Flickr member Threat to Democracy under Creative Commons