It was a good night for Mid-Atlantic chefs and a bad night for bustiers.
The Inn at Little Washington, a gustatory treasure set in the hills of Virginia's Rappahannock County about 100 miles southwest of Baltimore, was named the best restaurant in America at the James Beard Awards, an annual black-tie gathering of the nation's chefs, restaurateurs and writers.
Jean-Louis Palladin of Washington's Jean-Louis at the Watergate restaurant was named Chef of the Year, an honor he shared with Larry Forgione of New York's An American Place restaurant.
Although Parkton wine writer Robert M. Parker Jr. did not attend, he was nonetheless inducted into the "Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America." Marcel Desaulniers, chef at the Trellis restaurant in Williamsburg, Va., was a double winner: His "Death Chocolate" won top honors in the dessert category of the cookbook competition, and he was named best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Besides the honors handed out, the costumes worn by some female French chefs caused a stir. In an attempt to bring Gallic flair to a ceremony saluting the French influence on American cooking, the female chefs wore low-cut, frilly red-and-black dresses. Male French chefs participating in the salute wore traditional white hats and jackets.
The low-cut look didn't sit well with Anne Rosenzweig, chef-owner of Arcadia and partner in the 21 Club in New York, who thought the emphasis should be on the cuisine, not the sex appeal of female chefs.
While she was standing at the podium to present a cookbook award, Rosenzweig broke from the script, saying, "I hope we get to the day when women won't have to wear bustiers and dresses." Her comments drew a rousing response from among the 1,200 seated in Manhattan's Marriott Marquis ballroom.
The cleavage controversy was the only discordant note in the event billed as the "Oscars of the food world."
Some of the acceptance speeches were poignant.
Patrick O'Connell -- who with Reinhardt Lynch runs an inn in a town of 200 folks -- told the crowd, "It is wonderfully reassuring to know you can hide out in the woods . . . and still receive heart-warming recognition from your peers."
When Jean-Louis' honor was announced, the chef was preparing a terrine of foie gras with cured duck to be served at a post-awards reception. Finally making his way to the podium, all Jean-Louis said, in heavily accented French, was "I am berry happy."
The top cookbook award went to "The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, a Minneapolis food writer.
Among the other winners:
* Outstanding service award: Ella and Dick Brennan of Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans.
L * Best chef, New York: Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill.
* Best chef, Southwest: Vincent Guerithault of Vincent Guerithault on Camelback, Phoenix.
* Best chef, Northeast: Johanne Killeen and George Germon, Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
* Best chef, Midwest: Jimmy Schmidt, The Rattlesnake Club, Detroit.
* Best chef, Northwest-Pacific: Roy Yamaguchi, Roy's Honolulu.
* Best chef, Southeast: Susan Spicer, Bayona, New Orleans.
* Best chef, California: Tie between Bradley Ogden of Lark Creek Inn, Larkspur, Calif., and Jeremiah Tower, Stars, San Francisco.
* Rising star chef: Bobby Flay, chef at Mesa Grill, New York.
Book award winners included:
* Entertaining and special occasions: "Alfresco" by Rosamond Richardson and Linda Burgess.
* Quick and easy: "Great Food Without Fuss" by Frances McCullough and Barbara Witt.
* Light and healthy: "High Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking" by Steven Raichlen.
* Single subject: "Preserving Today" by Jeanne Lesem.
* General: "Back to Square One: Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen" by Joyce Goldstein.
* Fruits, vegetables and grains: "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" by Jeanne Lemlin.
* Americana: "New York Cookbook" by Molly O'Neill.
* Italian: "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan.
A5 * International: "Yamuna's Table" by Yamuna Devi.