6:36 p.m. Nate Appleman, from A16 in San Francisco, wins Rising Star Chef of the Year, to huge applause in the press room. He eventually makes it backstage and tells us he's finally sampled the burger at Burger Joint. Totally trumps Shake Shack's, he immediately says, when posed with the smackdown. "Burger Joint, hands down. I love Danny Meyer, I love his operations. But yup, yup, yup, Burger Joint."
6:45 p.m. David Burke has some prime intel to share: "Fishtail's a natural for expansion," he says of his Upper East Side seafood spot. He says he's looking to open a second location in New York, and an offshoot in Philadephia.
7:01 p.m. Believe it or not, NYC cocktail guru Dale DeGroff has never won a Beard award. Tonight finally breaks his losing streak after he nabs the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award. "It's not something that bartenders can usually aspire to, a James Beard Award, but it's a lovely thing," he says, with typical DeGroffian modesty.
7:36 p.m. Le Bernardin's Aldo Sohm, who seems to have won every sommelier award ever conceived, now has a Beard—his first—to add to his collection. Think boss Eric Ripert might give him the day off tomorrow? "Tomorrow's a busy day!" he says.
7:43 p.m. Score another one for the New York team: The Modern's Gabriel Kreuther wins Best New York City Chef.
8:13 p.m. They screen a fairly long film clip of "Jule & Julia," the new Julia Child biopic starring Meryl Streep. It looks pretty awesome, with a spot-on performance by Streep—do you ever expect anything less? Director Nora Ephron shows up in the press room slowly afterward, and we accost her on her way out: "It was a dream," she says of the shoot. "Do you know how many times I got to go to Paris? To scout [for locations]? I've always been an obsessive cook, and I really learned how to cook from Julia Child."
8:39 p.m. Joe Bastianich makes a quick beeline for the champagne table. His and partner Mario Batali's Babbo finally became eligible for Outstanding Restaurant when it hit the 10-year mark in 2008. Did he predict they'd have this kind of longevity? "Oh yeah, I knew going in—Babbo's always been magic," he says before quickly zipping away.
8:49 p.m. Alinea's Grant Achatz, last year's Outstanding Chef winner, has another Beard Award to add to his mantle: for his book, also called "Alinea." Interesting tidbit: He confirms that he's currently in talks with producers to develop a film about his life, which will include his harrowing battle with tongue cancer. "Right now we have a couple on the table: We have a documentary-style film, and we have a feature film that we're negotiating. So we'll see what happens." So who would play him? "Everybody tells me there's two guys who look a lot like me"—he stalls for almost a full minute, trying to remember—"one of them was in 'The Incredible Hulk'...Norton. Edward Norton! And who's the other guy? Oh, oh, oh! Ethan Hawke!" he adds, laughing. Maybe next time we'll see him at the Oscars instead of the Beards? "You 'll never know," he quips.
8:59 p.m. Talk about a power pack: Danny Meyer, Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali are huddled together, chatting and trading barbs. Strangely, Batali's signature orange clogs match the color of the clementine martini that Colicchio is sipping.
9:10 p.m. After six previous nominations, perennial bridesmaid Gina DePalma finally wins for Outstanding Pastry Chef, for Babbo. "Thanks—it was worth the wait!" she exclaims.
9:05 p.m. Daniel wins Best Service Award. Boulud is backstage in minutes. "I'm starving," he apologizes to us, as he reaches for some sliced cucumbers from the bar. He's also looking ahead to the opening of his new Bowery brasserie-pub, DBGB, on May 26. "I have a charity party party from 5:30 to 9, and then I have the industry party starting at 10 o'clock. So it'll be fun!"
9:25 p.m. In the hotly contested Best New Restaurant race, Corton, Momofuku Ko and Scarpetta are all in the running. It's a foodie's "Sophie's Choice." Painful. Someone's gotta win, and it's Ko. Chang has now won his third consecutive Beard Award. Next year: Outstanding Chef? Bet on it.
9:30 p.m. Damn, everyone's starving now—the show's been going on for three hours, and we've all subsisted on champagne, martinis, and Artisanal cheese and crackers. Can we speed this along? Outstanding Restaurateur is up next, and Drew Nieporent takes the prize. He hops on stage holding a phone and immediately proclaims, "I'm Twittering!" He then launches into an anecdote about how he stepped on dog crap the previous evening, which led him to believe he'd win. Uh, OK.
9:37 p.m. And the award for Outstanding Chef goes to...Dan Barber! The farm-to-table visionary heads to the podium and cracks, "I was thinking about my father—not when I hugged Tom Colicchio, but before." Cue audience laughter. He gets more serious: "Fine dining has become a little less fine," he says of the industry's current bleak climate, and tips his hat to "chefs who refused to lower [the] bar—and to all of you who continue to raise that bar."
9:42 p.m. That's it. Show's over. Finito. Can we all eat now?
Additional reporting by Kelly Dobkin