Restaurant 213 owner/chef Jim Hughes serves up something special while being honored by the James Beard Foundation in New York City
Haute cuisine on the Eastern Shore received a major shot in the arm in May, when the world-renowned James Beard Foundation honored Fruitland chef Jim Hughes by inviting him to prepare an “event” at the legendary American gourmet’s landmark home in New York City.
“You often hear people say ‘It was an honor just to have been invited,’” said Hughes from the northeast corner table of his Restaurant 213 dining room, “but when you’re talking about the James Beard Foundation, you’re talking about an official honor — with a capital ‘H.’”
Considering Time Magazine once referred to James Beard Foundation Awards as “the Oscars of the food world,” Hughes is not aggrandizing the significance of what was bestowed upon him May 16 in Manhattan. With names like Graham Kerr, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller on its national advisory board, the JBF is, quite literally, the most august and authoritative institution in the United States for food and beverage professionals working not only in restaurant kitchens and wine cellars, but also the media, architecture and design.
But this is by no means the first feather in the chef’s cap of a man whose honorific plumage has accrued to the point of making him the equivalent of a culinary peacock.
During his 30-plus-year career, Hughes not only held the distinction of having been the youngest corporate executive chef in the Unites States, he has soared through command performances for royalty, presidents and superstars the world over, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Queen Noor of Jordan, President Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in addition to countless other European heads of state.
“Cooking for the James Beard Foundation is a goal I’ve had for a very long time,” said Hughes, the second-ever Hall of Fame inductee at his alma mater, the prestigious Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island (Emeril Lagasse was the first).
As one would expect, Hughes pulled out all the stops for the grand repast that adorned the five-story Greenwich Village brownstone that James Beard occupied until his death in 1985. First up were six hors d’oeuvre offerings, including Colossal Blue Crab Beignets; tuna tartare-filled wasabi cones with toasted sesame seeds; shrimp spring rolls with Thai dipping sauce; smoked duck breast and fig compote crostini; and crab-and-shrimp-mousse-filled puff-pastry pinwheels.
The dinner menu continued but (as Hughes was quick to point out) was not limited to the Chesapeake-inspired influences alluded to in the initial fare. Entrees included baked Chincoteague oyster duo with aromatic greens and Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat; smoked local salmon and duck confit salad with fire-roasted shiitakes and banyuls vinaigrette; steamed Maine Lobster with grilled artichokes, oranges, roasted tomatoes, and mushroom crème; grilled Shenandoah Valley lamb loin with eggplant flan, fire-roasted red pepper coulis and rosemary sauce.
Dessert, meanwhile, capped the event with a culinary cornucopia that consisted of a lemon-crème fraîche mousse with red and black berries and Grand Marnier-raspberry coulis, presented in a handmade almond-praline basket.
“The menu was a real blockbuster, a real tour de force for Jim,” extolled Al Thanhauser, a general member of the James Beard Foundation and the one who had pitched Jim Hughes to the foundation in the first place. “It was definitely one of the better events to have taken place at the foundation in quite some time.”
Yet, Hughes — who during his 10 years in academia created the culinary program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and was putative designer significantly involved in the design of its Richard A. Hensen Center — asserted that the event was a boon to Fruitland businesses other than just his own.
“If the event was an unqualified success, which apparently it was,” said Hughes, “it was due in no small part to Carey Distributors’ Drew Falk, who was able to provide some exquisite Peter Franus selections that just made the whole thing explode. I’m very grateful that Drew was able to be a part of this.”
Fortunately, Eastern Shore foodies don’t have to travel to places like New York for world-class cuisine when Jim Hughes’ Restaurant 213 sits perched right on Route 13 in Fruitland. And though reservations are never a bad idea, the chef assures that walk-in customers are every bit as welcome.
213 N. Fruitland Avenue (Rt. 13), Fruitland, MD 21826
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