April 16, 2010 -- It's called the Oscars of the culinary world.
Every year, the James Beard Foundation Awards honor the best chefs, restaurateurs and food critics. But the awards are more than a medal: winning has the opportunity to change the course of a chef's career.
Brett Anderson, the restaurant critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the volunteer chair of the James Beard Restaurants & Chef committee, said that receiving a James Beard award or nomination is a very valuable resume line.
"In general," Anderson told ABCNews.com, it's "... a sign of what they have accomplished and the value of their food. Historically, the James Beard Awards have been very good at pinpointing and identifying the best restaurant chefs in the country."
The medal that has the most weight in changing someone's career is the Rising Star Chef of the Year award, which, according the Foundation's Web site, is given to a chef under 30 years old who is likely to make a significant impact on the culinary industry in the future.
"Winning can be an incredible boost to someone's career," Anderson said. "Right now they may be working in restaurants owned by other people and this could help them in moving forward and opening their own restaurant."
Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, who doesn't vote for any of the awards, told ABCNews.com that not only will this help someone's career, it also gives regular diners an idea of where to get a great meal.
"You really can't get a better recommendation than a chef or restaurant that has been nominated or won a James Beard Award," Urgaro said.
ABCNews. com looked at the background and restaurants of the five young chefs nominated for the Rising Star award and located some fun things to do and see around their restaurant. And we also found out their signature dishes to further tantalize your taste buds.
Bio: Zemanick started her culinary career at the age of 15, working various jobs in multiple fine-dining restaurants in Pennsylvania. She went to the Culinary Institute of America and developed a love for seafood, which brought her to New Orleans. Her first job in the Big Easy was at the famous Commander's Palace. She then moved to Gautreau's, worked her way up the ranks and was promoted to executive chef in 2005.
Restaurant: The food served at this locale is French-inspired and includes many classic New Orleans flavors. The restaurant is a converted antique drugstore that still has the original apothecary cases which now act as wine cases. The menu includes delicacies like foie gras with poached pear, duck confit on a spinach salad and roasted squab served with fettuccine. The dessert choices include hearty dishes like chocolate cake with banana cream and warm apple cake with coconut cream cheese ice cream.
Critics View: "Sue cooks with confidence and finds inspiration from flavors all around the world," Anderson said. "When you eat this food it is shocking to see this young woman emerge from the kitchen because the food is so refined."
What to Do: The restaurant is located in the uptown neighborhood of New Orleans and is just a few blocks off St. Charles Ave. In the late 19th century, St. Charles was known as "millionaires' row" and is still home to many of the city's biggest mansions. Hop on the St. Charles Streetcar line and check out the Brown mansion (4717), the largest house on the street originally built in 1904, the wedding cake house (5807), a Victorian revival house dating back to 1896 with ornate details that are reminiscent of icing on a cake, and Audubon Place (7000), the president of Tulane's residence, commissioned in 1907. Also check out the Valient cemetery which is full of New Orleans' famous elevated tombs. Roam around Tulane's campus and enjoy the local bars and shops. Or spend a day visiting the city's main menagerie, the Audubon Zoo.
Signature Dish: A roasted veal chop with Brussels sprouts, shallots and a natural jus.
Bio: Hollingsworth started at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., in 2002 and climbed the ranks until becoming the kitchen leader as Chef de Cuisine. In 2004, Hollingsworth helped Thomas Keller open his New York City-based establishment, Per Se. Hollingsworth represented the USA at the Bocuse d'Or World Cuisine Contest in 2009 and helped the team to place 6th out of 24 teams from around the world.
Restaurant: The French Laundry has three Michelin stars and was voted the best restaurant in the world by Britain's Restaurant magazine as recently as 2004. The kitchen serves two prix fixe, nine-course menus daily. The cuisine is made up of French and American influences and uses almost exclusively farm fresh produce and meats. For the spring season, the chefs are using lots of petite radishes, asparagus and lettuce blends.
Critics View: "He is the Chef de Cuisine at one of the best restaurants in the country," Anderson said, "Which means that when Thomas Keller isn't there he basically runs the place and those duties speak for themself."
What to Do: Yountville is in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. Visit the Domaine Chandon winery located within the city limits and take a guided tour with a sit-down tasting of five wines for $30. A tour without the tasting is $12. At night, take in a show at the Lincoln Theater, which is home to the Napa Regional Dance Company. The theater offers shows year round and just underwent a multi-million dollar restoration. Make a weekend of the dining experience and take a balloon ride over the vineyards in Sonoma or see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, 40 minutes and an hour away respectively.
Signature Dish: Sautéed Fillet of Japanese Medai with chorizo, fennel bulb, sweet peppers, agretti, nicoise olive and extra-virgin olive oil.
Bio: Instead of a classic culinary education, Rucker took a "hands-on" approach to learning about food and the restaurant industry. Rucker arrived in Portland, Ore., in 2003 and cooked at Paley's Place and The Gotham Building Tavern. In 2006, Rucker opened Le Pigeon where diners have been filling his dining room to eat his France-meets-Spain-meets-Oregon-style dishes ever since.
Restaurant: The menu at this locale changes weekly and is a combination of American flavors and French techniques. The menu includes items like a starter of pigs feet with foie gras and entrees of sweetbreads with prawns and grits. The dining room is marked by beautiful exposed brick walls.
Critics View: "Gabriel is from a city that has become an exciting dining destination," Anderson said. "A lot of national trends are coming out of Portland these days. Rucker's cuisine is a kind of new American and he uses a lot of local ingredients."
What to Do: Portland, which is known as the most environmentally-friendly city in America, is quickly becoming one of the Northwest's biggest tourist destinations. Located right across the Willamette River from the restaurant is the Pearl District, which is a great shopping destination. The district has a tree-filled park at its center that acts as a nature sanctuary in the middle of an ever-growing city. On the first Thursday of every month the district's art galleries stay open late and some even serve wine and cheese. While in there check out a local favorite, Powell's City of Books, which calls itself the largest independent bookstore in the world. The store takes up one entire city block and has over 60,000 feet of retail floor space. If you are dining with kids, take them to the Salmon Street Springs, a kind of art installation that is made up of 185 jets of water that create ever-changing water patterns.
Signature Dish: Scallop Crudo with fennel pollen, radish and seafood butter.
Bio: Monis grew up working in his family's restaurant and spent his summers in Greece where his grandparents taught him that food was best when it was seasonal. In December 2003, in Washington, D.C., Monis opened Komi, which is named for a Greek beach that is lined with small tavernas cooking dishes with vegetables and fish gathered that morning. This farm-to-table mindset from his parents' hometown still inspires Monis and his restaurant today.
Restaurant: According to Komi's Web site, the restaurant serves "a progressive multi-course menu – our degustazione," or tasting menu. The food is Mediterranean in nature with direct influences from Italy, Greece and Spain. The menu changes daily, but has had items like suckling pig for two and spanakopita, a traditional Greek spinach pie, served with an egg yolk. Tuesdays through Thursdays, Komi offers a "dinner" option, which is $35 cheaper than the degustazione option.
Critics View: "Johnny is on the forefront of chefs that look to Greece for inspiration," Anderson said. "He creates food that is very unique because he is skilled in paying attention to the details."
What to Do: The Dupont Circle neighborhood is one of the trendier locales in Washington, D.C., with coffee shops, boutique bars and upscale shops. Enjoy the park located inside the circle by sitting near the fountain or playing a game of chess on the permanent stone chess tables. Then walk along Massachusetts Avenue and take in embassy row where many of the over 175 embassies are located. If you're dining in the fall, take in the Dupont High Heel Race, which takes place every year on the Tuesday before Halloween. The race course is about two blocks, starts at 9 p.m. and involves about 100 drag queens vying for the title of fastest in heels. Also, the circle is located about 10 minutes from the White House and 20 minutes from the Smithsonian Institution.
Signature Dish: Charred Octopus with Greek Yogurt and Herbs
Bio: Pugin is from Tarbes, a small town in the Southwest of France, and learned his passion for food from his father, also a chef. He began his culinary career at the age of 16 in France and at 24, started working with culinary legend Joel Robuchon. In 2002, Pugin assisted in opening nine restaurants worldwide with Robuchon including L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the New York City Four Seasons Hotel where he was the Executive Sous-Chef for two years. Since then, Pugin has been creating dishes at Veritas in New York City, as the restaurant's Executive Chef.
Restaurant: Veritas is known for its extremely large wine collection, called the Park B. Smith collection. It includes more than 190,000 bottles that span over a century of viticulture. The menu is five courses served prix fixe in the dining room and a la carte at the bar. The menu changes seasonally and currently includes dishes like crispy frog legs with potato gnocchi and a bouillabaisse with monkfish and skate. The dessert menu includes milk chocolate pot au crème with a liquid coffee truffle and a coconut pavlova, a meringue-based dessert, with marinated pineapple.
Critics View: "Gregory works at a long established restaurant where people go for great wine," Anderson said, "and he reinvigorated the cuisine and put the restaurant back on the map as far as food is concerned."
What to Do: Veritas sits in the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan, which is centered around the private Gramercy Park that only people who pay an annual fee have a key to access. Walk up a couple of blocks and see the famous Flatiron building that forms a triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Then walk to Union Square and visit the stores and bistros surrounding its edges. The square is home to one of the world's most famous Greenmarkets held year round from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. During the holidays, the square becomes filled with over a hundred artisans from Nov. 23 to Dec. 24 for the annual Union Square Holiday Market.
Signature Dish: Langoustine with Iranian caviar, passion fruit tapioca, vodka gelee and green apple.