May 8, 2012 / 2:11 AM / in 5 years

Swiss-born chef wins top U.S. chef award

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Swiss-born Daniel Humm won the top U.S. chef prize on Monday, with the group that hands out the most prestigious U.S. culinary awards celebrating its 25th anniversary as interests in food and cooking scale fresh heights around the world.

Humm, 35, is among the youngest winners of the James Beard Foundation's outstanding U.S. chef award. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have regarded Humm as one of the brightest up-and-coming culinary talents.

His New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park, where Humm became executive chef in 2006, won the foundation's best restaurant award just a year ago. Since then, the eatery has racked up other top awards for its innovative menu and superb service.

"These awards never get old because they come from your peers," Humm said, though he also warned against complacency amid ever-mounting expectations.

"You get these awards for the work you did yesterday. You don't win awards for the work you do today. We need to stay focused and work harder."

Last month, the Michelin three-star restaurant was ranked the world's 10th best in the S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna World's 50 Best Restaurants survey.

Humm defeated David Chang of New York's Momofuku Ssam Bar, Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago, Donald Link of Herbsaint in New Orleans and Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.

"Daniel Humm's architect dad, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps, must be so proud and glad he decided to bring his creativity to a chef's table rather than a drafting table," said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation.

"We couldn't be happier that he is adding James Beard 'Outstanding Chef' Award to his mantle of prestigious awards."

Boulevard in San Francisco, known for its high-end American cuisine, was crowned outstanding U.S. restaurant, while Next in Chicago with its changing, experimental menu was awarded best new restaurant.

The "Rising Star" honor for chefs under 30 went to Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.

Another female chef, Mindy Segal of Mindy's HotChocolate in Chicago, nabbed the honor of the top U.S. pastry chef.

Last Friday, the foundation named "Modernist Cuisine" by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet -- a six-volume, 2,400-page series on the cutting-edge cooking techniques -- the year's best cookbook.

TWENTY-FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY

The group, whose name is a tribute to American food writer James Beard, was founded in 1986 with the goal to recognize and preserve American food history and traditions.

In addition to its awards, the foundation marked its 25-year anniversary with "Best of the Best," which launched on Monday. The book's author Kit Wohl profiled nearly all the chefs that won the foundation's annual best chef award.

"They are all still very celebrated, well-known chefs and are still accomplishing great things," said Ungaro.

Many of the chefs are seen regularly on television. Several of them including Wolfgang Puck -- the only one who has won the foundation's best chef award twice -- operate restaurants around the world.

"They are all imaginative, forward-thinking perfectionists. They are the hallmarks of these best-of-the-best chefs," Ungaro said.

Recent winners include Grant Achatz and Jose Andres, who are known for their molecular gastronomic techniques.

Dan Barber, who won the top chef prize in 2009, said the role of chefs has grown beyond the kitchen. They have become active participants in the discussion about healthful eating by connecting it with wholesome, flavorful food.

"Chefs could really shine a light on it(healthful eating)in the context of delight and pleasure," Barber said. "That's a very inspiring message in the long term. This is only the beginning. We have a very delicious future."

Reporting by Richard Leong, editing by Elaine Lies

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