The red carpet was unfurled along the travertine plateau of Lincoln Center last night. The bright lights of the big city and the brighter lights of the camera crews forced an unnatural daylight, and the tuxedoed men and begowned women under their incandescence seemed to glow. Bobby Flay and his redonk bride Stephanie March marched by, pucking Wolfgang Puck scurried past. Todd English, whose beautiful face is made better by the fact that it is stretched around his huge head, gave interviews to a gaggle of gaga televisions anchors. Ilan Hall showed off his bling: Real gold cufflinks he got for his bar mitzvah.
Inside the auditorium, host Hannah Storm enounced every line like she was blowing the Teleprompter. Her scarlet folds announced David Chang's win for best new chef with the tone of voice usually reserved for dirty nothings and unnatural requests. Perhaps because everyone seemed alternately skeaved out and erect, the awards were an endearing if chaotic shitshow. Envelopes were delayed, cues dropped, and lines flubbed. Execution issues notwithstanding, the chefs who won and presented were uniformly adorable, enthusiastic and wholly charming. But we heard there was food in the press room so we quickly decamped from the auditorium to where, apparently, the party was at.
The press room, in the outer bowels of Lincoln Center, resembled a feed lot. The sum total of New York's food scene—those who write, those who cook, the PR handlers, the hacks and the flacks—was present. Ozersky, Leventhal, Levine, Laren, Leuzzi, Thorn: They were all there, gazing at the telecast. The winners and presenters would cycle through the room, gracious and harried. We—as you can see—caught up with Big Head Todd, Teddy Allen, Wolfgang "Elmer" Puck, Padma Lakshmi and others. Enough can not be said about the languid beauty of Padma Lakshmi. We're not sure if she and Wild Salman are still together, but we glumly noted she was sporting two gargantuan and seemingly matrimonial rings. Her face, breathtaking on television is even more beautifuller close up and in person. It's bigger (weee! perspective!) but more to the point, it means you're standing close to her in person. With a miniature stuffed red pepper gingerly held between her fingers, Padma turned to us and said, "Oh Gawker! You guys aren't always so nice to me."
"No," I said a little too fervently. "I'm nice," I said, "and enamored." And then, like it wasn't the greatest thing that ever happened in my life, though plainly both of us knew it would be, she rubbed my shoulder and told me I was sweet.
As the ceremony finished, the press and the guests and the chefs filed out to the foyer for a massive gala dinner. Chefs from around the country manned tables and distributed tiny portions designed to showcase how talented they were. The stakes were high. José Andres, a mad Spanish genius, served those crystalline olive oil drops Marcel tried and failed to pull of in Top Chef. If little Vigneron had managed to capture that salty taste explosion, he surely would have won.
The reception felt strangely like a very well-catered prom. People cared less about the party than the after party. Word was shit was gonna be off the hook at Picholine, Hawaiian Tropic and Cafe Des Artistes. Chang had even hired a party bus for 30 chefs, complete with a stripper pole. The night would end, we were told, at Momofuku Ssam Bar. But since it was close by and since we'd never gone, we threw our lot with Jeffrey Chodorow's Kobe Club a few blocks away. Chodorow, who was neither mentioned nor nominated, wasn't around but his ninja swords were. Like so many Damocles, we munched on subpar crab cakes and mini cheese steaks. Billy Joel's wife was there without her man, but we were holding out for some Easy Exotic company, she who rubbed us and told us we were sweet. As one turned two, the morning earlier and we older, our eyes, so eager for Padma, started to droop. So sad. Wherever was she?
[Video: Richard Blakeley]