Event: Golden Foodie Awards 2013

Come one, come all to the Fairmont Newport Beach for the Golden Foodie Awards...if you can manage to snatch a golden ticket before the rest of Orange County's finest does. I kid you not - the tickets sold faster than gourmet hotcakes (red velvet with maybe a dusting of gold leaf? drizzled with chipotle maple syrup from a single tree in Vancouver tended to by a 100 year old man perhaps?) this year due to the immense buzz that last year's Golden Foodies generated. "Food's Highest Honor" that night seemed just to be in the presence of the great Orange County restaurants nominated for a 2013 award, waiting for the possibility of touching a curvaceous Golden Foodie statuette if a member of your table won. We were thrilled at the event last year but this year, the special honor of being a nominee seemed to heighten the experience. That plus this year didn't seem so lonely as more and more familiar faces came across our way than last; that's what a year of eating in Orange County does, I suppose!

Hundreds walked the (now) golden carpet, getting pictures snapped of them by the paparazzi of the evening. If you weren't a nominee, chances were that you were in support of a nominee or a part of the industry. If not, we hope you had a blast anyhow. How could you fail to have a good time with all of the wonderful restaurants presenting samples and free-flowing drinks? We caught up with Melissa's Produce, just about the most well-known of produce companies; more than a handful of the nominated restaurants are avid users of the produce and proud of it too. We can't even name how many boast their usage of Melissa's Produce, and even the Golden Foodie Awards had caught onto them. Other sponsors of the evening included Hawaiian Springs Water, Chambord, Patron Tequila, Ritual Brewing, Kean Coffee, and Sadie Rose Baking Co. As guests mingled with each other, they anticipated the arrivals of celebrity guests such as Vicki Gunvalson ("The Real Housewives of Orange County"), Wing Lam (Wahoo's Fish Taco), and Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes).

Not ones to be star-struck, we ended up spending the start of our evening indulging in petite-but-flavor-packed foods such as filet mignon, lamb, pork belly sliders, ceviche, and so much more. The people we were most excited to see found us first - Jun and Hiro Noguchi of Sushi Noguchi! Why the joy, you ask? We were absolutely, undeniably rooting for them for Best Sushi in Orange County as we firmly believe in their restaurant and its fare. It's the underdogs that need to be recognized at awards like these, and we were glad to walk around the booths with them for some time. Cocktails that evening came around provided by sponsors Chambord and Patron but there were also wines by La Crema and Jackson Estates.

Excitement and anticipation filled the gorgeous outdoor patio air in the hour and a half prior to entering the ballroom for the actual awards ceremony. Rather than getting too antsy waiting for the recognition portion to start, we made the rounds to meet the chefs being nominated that evening. Ceviche was a popular theme that evening as many restaurants showed off their fare in such fresh manner. Others opted for bold savoriness, cooking up items such as chorizo tacos, Australian skirt steak, and even "Blue Balls" of veal.

Not every presenter outside during the cocktail hour was a nominee however. Some restaurants brought along their pet projects that were soon to open. What a perfect opportunity for marketing an up and coming restaurant! We saw our favorite Lucca Cafe showcasing a menu item for both itself and its future restaurant Provenance. Similar in style due to Chef Cathy's signature flavor profiles, the sliders presented different spins on the same menu item and convinced us even more that the new restaurant would be an absolute treat. There was even SOL Cocina's solita present, eagerly showing off and in wait for an opening in the next few weeks.

It seemed like it would take a while for the doors to finally open to let guests in (the sun had gone down!) but eventually they opened wide to reveal the bold ceiling-tall letters spelling "GFA" on the backdrop. Each table was decorated with beautiful and bountiful desserts of various sponsors including our favorite chocolatier, Valenza Chocolatier. Our hilarious hostess, comedian Frances Dilorinzo, kept all of the audience entertained between announcements and clips; this year, the Golden Foodie Awards committee created comedic clips of nominees/chefs' "interviews" where ridiculous answers were said to give the audience quite the laugh.

Another glorious event, this year's Golden Foodie Awards felt much larger than last year's; perhaps it was all of the familiar faces we now saw or it was the abundance of joy in a room. The key moment for us that night was the heart-wrenching (okay I admit - I cried for them) and tearful speech Chef Hiro gave (while Jun cried to the side of him) about how thankful they both were to be recognized for their craft. We were even more surprised when my name was mentioned in the thank yous. No, Jun, thank YOU for bringing great food to Orange County - everyone may be turning the food scene around but we still have improvements to make in this food industry here. The Golden Foodie Awards is a step in that direction. Other favorite wins of ours include Slapfish, Lucca Cafe, Blackmarket Bakery, Mick's Karma Bar, and Hopscotch. Congratulations to everyone! Just being a nominee is an honor in itself. Great job to the OC Restaurant Association, especially Pam and Tricia for putting on another phenomenal event.

Curious as to who else won? We had "live streamed" it via Facebook fan page and Twitter that night which you can still find or you can take a look at the listings below. Perhaps you should make a trip to one of the restaurants, and make it a date! I'm sure they would love that. Without further ado, here are those nominees with winners in bold:

    Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen
    Matador Cantina
    Sol Cocina

    118 Degrees
    True Food Kitchen

    Il Dolce
    Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana
    Pizzeria Ortica

    Provisions Market
    Slater's 50/50

    American Cuisine
    The Ranch
    Savannah Chop House

    320 Main
    Uva Bar

    Anaheim White House
    Bruno's Trattoria

    Brasserie Pascal
    Marche Moderne
    Pinot Provence

    Maro Wood Grill
    Steakhouse 55
    The Ranch

    Wine List
    Sea Legs
    The Ranch
    The Winery Restaurant

    Dave Castillo
    Forrest Taylor
    Koire Rogers

    Indian Cuisine
    Clay Oven
    Royal Khyber
    Tamarind of London

    Mick's Karma Bar
    Slater's 50/50

    Bamboo Bistro

    Kentro Greek Kitchen

    Sea Legs
    Tabu Grill

    Superior Service Award
    Anaheim White House
    Villa Roma

    House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer
    Wildfish Seafood Grille

    Bluefin Sushi
    Riptide Rockin’ Sushi
    Sushi Noguchi

    Mi Casa
    Sol Cocina

    Most DELICIOUS Dessert
    Maro Wood Grill - Banana Bread Pudding
    Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen - Beignets
    LUCCA - S’mores in a Jar

    Happy Hour
    Mozambique Restaurant
    Wildfish Seafood Grille
    The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar

    Best OC Food Writer
    Anita Lau
    Cathy Thomas
    Minerva Thai

    The 2013 Golden Chef Award
    Chef Yvon Goetz - The Winery Restaurant
    Chef Alan Greeley – The Golden Truffle
    Chef Michael Rossi - The Ranch Restaurant

    The 2013 Golden Pastry Chef Award
    Chef Rachel Klemek of Blackmarket Bakery
    Chef David Rossi of The Ranch Restaurant
    Chef Amelia Marneau of Marche Moderne

    Best New Restaurant Award
    Bruno’s Trattoria in Brea
    SeaLegs Wine Bar in Huntington Beach
    Arc Restaurant in Costa Mesa

Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who voted for me as Best OC Food Writer. It was a humbling experience that night to hear firsthand from those who did cast their votes on why they did. We do put forth a lot of effort to keep our readers informed (both visually and in writing) about the restaurants in Orange County, food-oriented events, and cooking tips/recipes. Food is one of my greatest curiosities, and I seek to continue our journey making much ado about fooding. I am grateful for the support and for the amazing passion behind everyone's work; I only seek to write the truth about your restaurants so in reality, you make my job easy! As for next year, perhaps we'll return as nominees again!

Photography by Duc Duong. Additional photos can be found on Facebook.