Best Chef: Northeast Winner Tony Messina Dishes On This Year’s James Beard Foundation Gala

It’s one of the most delicious weeks of the year when James Beard Foundation’s Taste America makes its annual stop in Boston for the seventh time.

The celebrated event features everything from a Boston Raising the Bar Reception at the Boston Public Food Market featuring bites and cocktails by local chefs and mixologists to a super swanky Taste America: Boston Gala Dinner at the State Room, all the benefit the nonprofit’s mission of cultivating a better food world for all. Some of this year’s chefs/mixologists on hand for the reception will include Josue Louis of Bistro du Midi, Tatiana Rosana of Outlook Kitchen and Ezra Star of Drink  The gala dinner will feature a menu crafted by Taste America Visiting All-Star Elizabeth Falkner and Local All-Star Tony Messina,

After Boston, the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America will continue on to Atlanta; Charleston, SC; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Kansas City, MO; Los Angeles; Louisville, KY; Miami; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Nashville; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Portland, OR; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

We caught up recently with Boston’s own Tony Messina of UNI, who just last year was awarded Best Chef: Northeast to discuss how it felt receiving that accolade, his thoughts on the Boston restaurant scene and what he will be serving up at this year’s Taste America: Boston Gala Dinner.

Photo Credit: Andrea Merrill

Congratulations on being named Best Chef: Northeast at last year’s James Beard Foundation awards gala. How did it feel to receive that honor?

To be completely honest, it was a complete shock to me. At the awards ceremony, I was fully prepared to hear someone else’s name announced. There were so many incredible chefs in the category with me. When I heard my name, I couldn’t believe it. I think my body went into autopilot because I somehow made it to the stage. All jokes aside, I am so honored and hope that I represent New England in a way that makes my friends and colleagues in the industry proud.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Taste America: Boston Gala Dinner and what you will be cooking?

This year’s Boston gala is going to be a blast. For me, the best part of events like this one is cooking alongside chefs that I respect and admire, and everyone participating this year is so talented. I’ll be making a butter poached lobster with pine nut “risotto,” pepperoni XO, and hakurei turnips.

Even though we, of course, know Boston has many incredible chefs, do you think your win last year helped put Boston on the national culinary map?

I hope so. We get knocked on a lot when national award lists come out from major publications. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Boston has always been very blue collar, and our food reflects that in a lot of instances. I don’t think this one award will move the needle in any significant way, but I do hope it helps to push Boston in that path, and help people to recognize the city on a national level.

Photo Credit: Melissa Ostrow