Capturing Taste: A Visual Journey Through 2024’s Culinary Award Season

06.25.24 | By
Capturing Taste: A Visual Journey Through 2024’s Culinary Award Season

Taste is deeply personal and highly subjective, varying widely from person to person, whether in the context of flavor or aesthetic preference. As a mother, the appearance and flavor of my cooking is judged by a panel daily. While it may not be as prestigious as receiving three Michelin stars, the pride I feel when my children murmur an appreciative “mmm” is exhilarating.

Awarding excellence in the culinary world presents a unique challenge due to this inherent subjectivity. Unlike objective criteria such as speed in athletics or accuracy in scientific measurements, culinary awards navigate the diverse and personal preferences that define human taste.

Occasionally, I fantasize about being part of this elite community of judges, gallivanting around the globe, enjoying delicious meals, and getting to know the chefs and teams behind the global evolution of taste. I suspect it’s not all fun and games – inspecting the quality of ingredients and judging restaurants based on flavor, presentation, creativity, and consistency is harder than it looks. That said, until I’m officially invited, I will continue admiring photographs taken from the most coveted reservations this globe has to offer.

Here are a few notable favorites from the recent whirlwind of accolades and celebrations at the James Beard Awards, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the 2024 Michelin Star recipients. I’ve also included some winners of the Pink Lady Food Photography Awards, which highlight the significance of food photography in capturing culinary artistry.

The prestigious James Beard Awards, recognizing culinary professionals in the United States, held their Restaurant and Chef Awards in Chicago at the Lyric Opera earlier this month. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to renowned writer and former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl. Outstanding Chef went to Michael Rafidi of Albi in Washington, D.C., and Best New Restaurant went to Dakar NOLA in New Orleans.

Palestinian American chef Michael Rafidi of Levantine restaurant Albi dedicated his Outstanding Chef award “to Palestine, and to all the Palestinian people out there, whether it’s here or in Palestine or all over the world.”

Dakar NOLA – Best New Restaurant \\\ Photo: Dakar NOLA/Official

Best New Restaurant went to chef Serigne Mbaye and Effie Richardson of Dakar NOLA in New Orleans. Mbaye, a Senegalese American, was born in Harlem and raised partly in Senegal. His experiences cooking at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, and Commander’s Palace helped shape the initial Dakar NOLA menu. “Our food is at the root of what is often considered the best food of North America, Creole and Cajun food,” said Mbaye while accepting the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

Disfrutar – #1 The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2024 \\\ Photo: Francesc Guillamet

This year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards took place in early June at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Barcelona’s Modernist restaurant Disfrutar was named the best restaurant in the world for its innovative tasting menu. The restaurant, tracing its lineage directly from elBulli and the molecular movement, is helmed by chefs Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro, and Mateu Casañas.

Image of a dark-colored ear of corn on a white rectangular plate, with a small piece of butter that resembles corn kernels on top, reminiscent of dishes showcased at prestigious Culinary Awards.

Disfrutar \\\ Photo: Luxeat

I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Mateu Casañas many years ago in New York, when he and Chef Albert Adria created an over-the-top culinary and art experience at the abandoned 5 Beekman Street before its transformation. Chef Mateu’s down-to-earth charm and humor made watching his team shop, prep, perfect, and improvise one of my favorite professional memories.

Atomix \\\ Photo: Diane Kang

Korean fine-dining restaurant Atomix in New York City was named the best restaurant in North America at No. 6 on the list. I still think about this meal and its seemingly endless courses from the open center kitchen to the surrounding U-shaped counter.

The menu tasting cards at Atomix are a key feature of the dining experience. \\\ Photo: Louise Palmberg

Recently, while moving studios, I came across my Atomix notecards. As someone who loves paper goods and beautifully executed packaging, I couldn’t fathom getting rid of these artistic notecards that remind you of each course. And for those of you wondering, yes, I’m a borderline hoarder.

El Intruso has a foie mousse, and figs all encased in a crispy runtus potato shell at Maido. \\\ Photo: Maido

The 2024 Chefs’ Choice Award went to Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura, the chef-owner of Maido. Maido, a Japanese phrase used to greet people, offers a gastronomic journey from Japan to Peru in the heart of Lima. Chef Micha’s ancestors arrived in Peru from Japan in 1889. He was born in Lima, completed a culinary arts program in the United States, and specialized in Japanese cuisine in Osaka. In 2009, he opened Maido, combining Japanese techniques and Peruvian ingredients into Nikkei cuisine. Some 15 years later, the menu may have diversified, but the philosophy remains the same: serving the best local ingredients, changing every season.

The Michelin Guides are published throughout the year, depending on the region. However, many key guides, such as those for Europe and North America, are often released in the first half of the year. The allure and meticulous standards of Michelin-starred cuisine set the benchmark for excellence in culinary arts, emphasizing precision, creativity, and the highest quality ingredients. And three stars, as we know, are the propeller into legend.

La Table du Castellet \\\ Photo: Caroline Dutrey

While the youngest-ever three-star chef remains Massimiliano Alajmo, an acclaimed prodigy at just 28, a new record of receiving three stars all at once has been awarded to 35-year-old chef Fabien Ferré of La Table du Castellet in Provence.

Coming from a family of culinary artists, Fabien Ferré embodies the essence of haute cuisine and culinary craftsmanship. He entered the profession through the front door as sous-chef at Maison Troisgros in 2010, at just 21. After three years, he moved to La Table du Castellet as sous-chef to Christophe Bacquié and was promoted to executive chef in February 2023.

La Table du Castellet \\\ Photo: Caroline Dutrey

Fabien Ferré has an artist’s sensitivity to the Mediterranean produce of Provence, and his plating is picturesque and photogenic. Speaking of which…

The winners of the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2024, the world’s leading celebration of food photography and film, have been revealed. From growing, farming, harvesting, to cooking, eating, celebrating, and surviving, the captivating images show us lives across the world through food.

From abstract compositions that play with light and shadow to whimsical depictions that challenge our perception of food, these photographs invite viewers to see gastronomy through a different lens. My two favorite entries evoke a sense of wonder and provoke thought, transcending mere documentation to becoming works of art in their own right.

Photo: © Yang Zhonghua

Overall Winner of Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2024: Red Bean Paste Balls by Yang Zhonghua, China

The image was taken in the rural area of Zhejiang during preparations of dim sum for a Lunar New Year feast. Chinese photographer Yang Zhonghua originally won the Champagne Taittinger Food for Celebration category with this image. 

Photo: © Azim Khan Ronnie

1st Place unearthed® Food For Sale: Tribal Farmers Sell Their Fruit by Azim Khan Ronnie, Bangladesh

Boats fan out across a stretch of the lake, creating a floating market selling an array of fresh fruit. This is a floating market of seasonal fruits such as jackfruit, pineapple, mango, etc. at Rangamati, Bangladesh. The tribal farmers sell their fruit every early morning at minimum price on a wholesale basis.

In an ever-evolving world where tastes and trends shift like the tide, food photography remains a steadfast anchor, documenting the evolution and preserving the legacy. Food photography is not just about capturing a moment but about preserving a narrative. It’s about celebrating the universal language of food.

TJ Girard is a sought-after food designer and creative consultant, celebrated for staging theatrical, interactive food + beverage experiences. She now resides in California where her creativity is solar powered! TJ writes the Design Milk column called Taste.