The "Outstanding Restaurateur" award, according to the Beard Foundation, honors a person "who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship."
In the biggest achievement of his career, Tom Douglas was named “Outstanding Restaurateur” by the James Beard Foundation on Monday night in New York. The awards are considered the Oscars of the food world.
The national award encompasses Douglas’ body of work, not just any single restaurant.
The honor is a defining award in Douglas’ celebrated career, chef Eric Tanaka, an associate of Douglas’, said in a phone interview after the award ceremony. “It is clearly, easily our biggest honor.”
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Tanaka accepted the honor for Douglas at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Douglas was in New York but did not attend the ceremony.
Tanaka said Douglas, 53, had been a finalist three times already and didn’t want to jinx his chances by going to the event. As late as Friday, the staff didn’t know if Douglas would even fly to New York.
Both Douglas and Tanaka, though, attended an after party at Boulud Sud near the award ceremony, where Douglas was surrounded by well-wishers and couldn’t get to the cellphone to comment.
“He was excited and shocked,” Tanaka said. “We are both shocked. I didn’t think we were going to win.”
After Douglas’ name was announced, Tanaka said, “Tom texted me and I texted him back. And then it was a barrage of 100 texts from people. It was exciting. It’s a big honor, not just for Tom, but for the team.”
Douglas owns 13 food establishments in Belltown, Pike Place Market and South Lake Union. He wrote three cookbooks and is on the board of, or involved in, a dozen food-related and philanthropic projects in the Seattle area.
It was the third James Beard award for Douglas, who won best Northwest Chef in 1994 and the award for best cookbook in 2001 for “Seattle Kitchen.” But the “Outstanding Restaurateur” honor was the big get that had eluded Seattle’s most celebrated chef.
The “Outstanding Restaurateur” award, according to the Beard Foundation guideline, honors a person “who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship.”
Since April last year, Douglas has added five restaurants in the South Lake Union area, marking the Amazon territory with Serious Pie Westlake, Serious Biscuit, Ting Momo, Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern.
He’s not done. By fall, another eatery, likely a falafel joint, next to Paramount Theatre downtown, will be added to his résumé.
Another big local winner Monday night was chef Matt Dillon, who was named best chef in the Northwest. Canlis’ Jason Franey was a finalist along with three other chefs from Portland.
Dillon, 38, is chef of Sitka & Spruce on Capitol Hill and The Corson Building in Georgetown. He also co-owns bar ferd’nand, a wine bar in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill.
A strong supporter of the eat-local mantra, Dillon sources a lot of his fruits, vegetables and eggs for his restaurants from his small farm on Vashon Island. In a phone interview after his acceptance speech, Dillon said he was “surprised and nervous. I don’t expect that kind of stuff. It’s an honor.”
Earlier-announced Beard award winners in publishing included several with local ties:
Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine” won “Cookbook of the Year” and also won under the category of “Cooking From a Professional Point of View.”
Seattle Times reporter Maureen O’Hagan won in the “Health and Well-Being” category for her special report on childhood obesity, “Feeling the Weight: The Emotional Battle to Control Kids’ Diet.”
Former Seattle resident Brad Thomas Parsons won in the “Beverage” book category for “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas.”
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656
On Twitter @tanvinhseattle