It's Jean George Vongrichten's ABC Kitchen versus Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone's Torrisi Italian Specialties.
In my previous life as fashion editor I covered the Oscars for many years. And now that the finalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards have just been announced, I can totally see how the JBAs are like the Oscars for the food world, complete with just as much campaigning, intrigue and breathless live blogging as Hollywood's biggest night. (Though I'm sure the red carpet dress negotiations are probably a little less cutthroat.)
In the "Best New Restaurant" category, there's Jean George Vongrichten's ABC Kitchen and Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone's Torrisi Italian Specialties, both representing New York City. Kind of like the culinary version of this year's The King's Speech vs. The Social Network standoff, this category pits the smooth, awards-bait veteran against the scrappy young upstart in a battle that reflects the two forces driving the dining zeitgeist right now. Or at least the merits of steamed cod with fennel and blood orange vs. Devil's Chicken.
Then there are the controversies: If Los Angeles is arguably one of the most exciting dining cities of the moment, why are there only two nominees (Lucques' Suzanne Goin for "Outstanding Chef" and Osteria Mozza's Dahlia Narvaez for "Outstanding Pastry Chef") in the national categories? If Prune's Gabrielle Hamilton—previously nominated in 2009 and 2010 for "Best Chef: New York City" and nominated again this year—wins, will it be in part because of the media lovefest for her best-selling memoir Blood, Bones & Butter? Should Chicago's Richard Melman be allowed to win the "Outstanding Restaurateur Award" when his empire is called Lettuce Entertain You? (Kidding Richard, kidding.)
There's even a Christopher Nolan-esque snub (the Inception director failed to get an Oscar nom even though his well-reviewed box office hit was nominated for Best Picture): No New York City chef was nominated for the "Outstanding Chef" Award, even though NYC is the only city to have its own category in the "Best Chefs" competition, otherwise organized by region.
In any case I'll be pulling for my favorites come May 9 when the awards are presented in NYC (like the Oscars, the technical categories, a.k.a. media awards, will be announced in a separate ceremony May 6; no word whether Marisa Tomei will be hosting). And I promise not to focus on the dresses for once.
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1