The 2014 James Beard Awards, aka the "Oscars of the food world," hit NYC last night at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (Check out all of the winners here and photo highlights, here). This morning, we chatted with chefs Charles Phan and Daniel Patterson who both won big. Phan was elated about his national win for Outstanding Restaurant for The Slanted Door. Patterson of Coi won Best Chef: West after being nominated for the past six years running. He called us after deplaning in Mexico City, where he landed this morning to cook at the renowned Pujol for a couple of nights. Congrats are also in order for The Restaurant at Meadowood, which won the award for Outstanding Service. Now here's what Phan and Patterson had to say today, basking in the glow of this huge career milestone.
Phan - who first opened The Slanted Door in the Mission in 1995 - on the key to longevity: “The fact that we moved a few times actually helped" he notes. "Either you survive or die. The changes have made us better, bigger, bringing more to the table."
Phan, on the Outstanding Restaurant win: "I never thought when I started over 20 years ago that I’d be here. My goal was to make $200 bucks a day and be able to live on that. The camaraderie of farmers and ranchers on the West Coast has really made our restaurant. As has the customer being willing to try new things, to try crazy foods. I’d sometimes think that people wouldn’t want to try a certain dish, but I stuck to my guns and wanted to bring a piece of Vietnam here. And the diners would surprise me time and again."
Phan, on hiring and inspiring the right people: “When you have a meeting of the minds with people, you can reach success. But also we grow and change. People need to make more money, have babies, changes happen, but you have to be willing to constantly change and be there for your people. One of my sous chefs started out as a dishwasher. I was doing dishes and cleaning the restaurant with him after I first opened and now he’s my # 2 guy. Erik [Adkins, bar director of all Phan restaurants] came along when we moved to the Ferry Building [in 2003]. We continue to change and make better food. You gotta worry about what you do today, not what you did yesterday. Hopefully, we succeed more than we fail. We happen to like this business and that’s why we stick to it.”
Phan, on taking risks: "This award gives us great joy but hopefully will inspire the next generation of restaurateurs to not be afraid of where you’ve come from. There will be people out there willing to try it.”
Patterson, on what the James Beard award means to him: “It’s always nice to have the recognition of your peers. That’s very meaningful. It doesn’t change anything in terms of work; if anything, we need to work harder.”
Patterson, on his team: “I’ve been really lucky to work with amazing people. What draws people to us is that we work very hard to do something at a high level. I love to be around people who share that drive for excellence.”
Patterson, on the future: “Keep making it better, refining food and service. We’re still developing new ideas, finding new things we haven’t done before. The most important aspect is learning, curiosity and development, which the diners can feel.”