Glitz, glamour; men in tuxedos, women in fancy gowns; anxious nominees, the envelopes, please.
Was it the Oscars?
Almost, says Missoula's Greg Patent.
Earlier in May, he and his wife, Missoula author Dorothy Patent, attended the Beard Awards ceremony in New York, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square. They stayed in the hotel that night, too; from their room they could see the huge neon sign that lights up the square below.
The Beards are the Oscar-equivalent for the culinary arts world of restaurants, chefs, wine specialists, food journalists and cookbook writers. Greg Patent's "Baking in America," published last year by Houghton Mifflin, took the Baking Cookbook of the Year award.
Winners were announced one by one, category by category, and went up on stage to accept their awards.
"When I heard my name, I just said 'Oh, my God,' and I was up like a shot," said Patent after returning from the $300-a-person gala event. He said he gave a short thank-you speech - winners were limited to 15 or 20 seconds each by organizers - and noted that it was his birthday as well as the late Beard's, and was whisked backstage for a glass of champagne, to replace his "nominee" ribbon with a "winner" ribbon, and for photographs by media cameras.
Then it was back to the table to enjoy the rest of the evening and to accept the congratulations of Dorothy and friends.
"It was just so fabulous," Patent said. "What a surprise. … It was just a wonderful celebration."
After the awards ceremony came the dinner, prepared by 30 teams of top chefs from around the country offering tastes of their specialties.
"As soon as we walked into the room, I saw a man eating foie gras, and I said, 'Where'd you get that?' I made a beeline for it: It's just my favorite thing," said Patent. "If I could just eat foie gras, caviar, champagne and lobster, I'd be happy."
Winning the award is an honor and a thrill, he said; judges are top cookbook writers who must fix several recipes from each of the cookbooks considered, then rank their preferences based on many criteria, from quality of recipes and writing to the scope of the work. Patent's winning cookbook was a multi-year historical research project that involved tracing the roots of some of America's most honored baked goods and desserts.
An independent accounting firm tallies the scores and keeps them secret until the awards are announced.
The night's biggest winner was San Francisco's Zuni Cafe, which was named this year's outstanding restaurant. In addition, "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook," by chef-owner Judy Rodgers, won the award for best general cookbook from a professional point of view and then went on to capture the prize for best cookbook of the year.
"I still haven't come down," said Patent a week after the May 5 dinner. "I could have fainted at any time. … I just don't believe it all happened."