Down East 2013 ©
Last night, Rob Evans of Portland's Hugo’s  won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast. Here’s a look at the night from his perspective:
“We’re still high as a kite. Last night we were on cloud nine for sure. It’s like we entered an exclusive club or something. It’s really exciting.
[The show is] set up exactly like the Oscars with the red carpet. We got a nominee ribbon that gives you VIP status. It’s a three-hour thing. It goes on for a long time. At the same time you’re looking forward to your turn, and anticipating that. This was our third time. We knew the set up, and I prepared myself for the let down. I just said, ‘Let’s ride it out, and have a good time. We get to see friends and go out to eat and expect that it might not happen.’ We were ready for that this year.
When you hear your name, you’re still not ready for that. It’s just, wow! And then Nancy [Pugh, his wife and partner at Hugo’s] was next to me, and she screamed. All of the sudden I have to talk to [thousands] of my peers, people I’ve admired and worked for, the who’s who in food in America. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought when I got up there. I just thanked my staff and Nancy and that was it.
Then they took me backstage, which was fun because everyone back there treats you like a rock star. There were tons of people shaking hands, taking pictures, and then the back room where all the other winners were. It was super cool. These things don’t happen a lot in life, so we really tried to slow down and take it in for the moment. It was great.”
On the rest of the experience in New York:
“One of my cooks is working at Jean Georges [the restaurant that won Outstanding Restaurant over Maine's very own Fore Street], so we went there and had lunch and got to talk to Jean Georges. Our cook has really done well there. He only cooked for four years with us, and now he’s at Jean Georges. It was a fourteen-course lunch. Then went to the awards, hooked up with Sam [Hayward] and Dana [Street] from Fore Street. Even though they didn’t get it, just to be included on that list is a big kudos for Fore Street and Portland. I mean come on! It was great to have him as our cheerleaders: We had some Mainers there on our side. Then we went out to Daniel afterwards, and to Prune. It was a blast. We finished at 4:30 in the morning when we got pizza near Columbus Circle.”
“If you take a look around Portland, look how many restaurants there are! It’s a great town to cook in. We could use a little more population just to support the amount of restaurants. There are some great chefs moving in to town now, and I think a lot more will come up. You get to cook in a city but you’re surrounded by farms and beautiful oceans. It’s a really ideal place to cook if you like the seasons, too. We try to stay local as much as possible. We’re maybe 80 percent at Hugo’s, but I don’t think a lot of people think of that when they think of us.”