The hottest ticket in town...

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So I'm standing about 5 feet away from Mario Batali, both an Iron Chef and one of the most successful restaurateurs in New York City. I go up to him and say, "Excuse me, where did you get that hot dog?"

And do you know what he says? "Over there." Mind you, this guy can cook dishes like fennel dusted sweetbreads with his eyes closed, and yet there he stood, eating a hot dog like we were at a Mets game.

But this was no Mets game and that was no ordinary hot dog (it was made with organic duck meat). Batali was just one of the hundreds of amazingly talented (and famous) chefs, restaurant owners, food writers, and mixologists who attended Monday night's 19th annual James Beard Foundation (JBF) Awards. Other chefs representing on the Food Network front included Alex Guarnaschelli, Emeril Lagasse, Cat Cora, Ted Allen, Ellie Krieger and Michael Symon. For one evening, the best chefs in the country trade their toques and white jackets for tuxes and stilettos. It's the hottest ticket all year for foodies, and as a culinary student, I got a huge, HUGE, student discount from the $450 face value of the ticket. What some might call an economic indicator, I call a heck of a break.

And believe me, the JBF Awards may be known as the Oscars of food, but this was a whole different ballgame. For one thing, presenters at the Oscars at least try to pretend like they're not just waiting for the awards to end so the partying and eating can begin. Not here. Near the end of last night's ceremony, a very pregnant Cat Cora had to assure the restless audience that we were just a few awards away from our dinner.

Iron Chef Michael Symon won a “Best Chef” award for his restaurant, Lola, and one of the last awards of the evening went to Food Network's own Ellie Krieger, for her cookbook The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life. The long-time food lover joked that when she told her mom she wanted to be a nutritionist, her mom replied that it was "like a pyromaniac becoming a fireman."

A little while later, it was time to eat. This was definitely the most exciting part for me because many of the chefs preparing our food were nominees or winners. And I've got to pat myself on the back here because I managed to taste every single dish that was prepared. So here's the menu, or what I remember of it (did I mention we had champagne too?).

April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig in NYC made an amazing seafood ceviche with grapefruit, and Missy Robbins of NYC's A Voce prepared an octopus Carpaccio, which mostly tasted like EVOO. Jamie Leeds of CommonWealth in DC made fantastic pickled herring. Jennifer Petrusky's ( Charlie Trotter's, Chicago) fava bean and onion "surprise" was earthy and delicious, but not particularly surprising. There were also decent pork tacos, super creamy cheese ravioli with radicchio, and fish soup with a "fois foam" (no idea what that is, but it was great). For dessert, there were beet brownies with salty soft cheese on top. Kind of weird, but not bad at all.

However, the dish that rises above all the rest in my mind is still that hot dog, hands down. Made by the D'Artagnan food company in Jersey, it had the juiciest, most flavorful meat you could imagine, on a regular toasted hot dog bun. Note to self: When in doubt, let Mario Batali’s stomach lead the way.

Before I knew it the party was winding down (Emeril was still going strong), and it was time to go, especially since my dress was starting to feel more and more like a corset. But a little pain and a few busted seams (yes, I actually ripped my dress right next to David Chang, of NYC's Momofuku Ko) are a small price to pay for a chance to dine so well with so many of America's greatest chefs.

Emily G., Web Editor
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