America is home to more than 100,000 head chefs, and last night, a select handful — along with a few restaurateurs, general managers, and wine and spirits professionals — took home a James Beard Award , the industry's top prize. Wondering what makes these names such a big deal? Then get to know the people behind the country's best restaurants and bars.
Outstanding Bar Program: The Aviary
When Alinea's Grant Achatz opened The Aviary  in 2011, it didn't surprise anyone that the molecular gastronomy mastermind would apply the same rigor that he's known for in food to his cocktails. Yet the Chicago chef still managed to stupefy the most seasoned of cocktail aficionados with impeccable service and jaw-dropping concepts, like his now-iconic old fashioned in the rocks, made by freezing water inside a water balloon  to create a hollow capsule, then injecting it with bourbon and placing the whole thing in a rocks glass to be cracked open by the diner himself.
Outstanding Wine Program: Frasca Food and Wine
Frasca Food and Wine  chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson (left) and owner Bobby Stuckey (right) are among the country's greatest ambassadors of Italian food and wine.
You'll know this the minute you arrive at their Boulder, CO, restaurant, as you admire its breathtaking wall of backlit wine bottles and pick up a wine list. You'll be greeted with this message: "There has never been a better time to drink wine," followed by, "Our wine program has been designed to make the most of this."
If you're lucky, as I was, Stuckey, a master sommelier, will offer you a glass of wine on the house  to start off your meal. Regardless, rest assured he'll walk you through the restaurant's extensive wine collection, offering options based on flavor profile, a range of wines from unexpected places, and plenty of hospitality throughout your meal.
Best New Restaurant: State Bird Provisions
Small bites are elevated to a whole new level at San Francisco darling State Bird Provisions , where chef Stuart Brioza offers guests dim sum trays and pushcarts with "provisions" like duck neck dumplings and fried green garlic bread with burrata. In addition, there's a traditional menu with all sorts of gems, including a section dedicated just to pancakes (of the sourdough-and-sauerkraut kind). Leave room for dessert: Brioza's wife, Nicole Krasinski, wows with avant-garde options (black sesame-walnut "chocoyaki," a play on Japanese takoyaki) as well as simple ones, like her joy-inducing peanut muscovado milk shots.
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Danny Bowien
What's Danny Bowien — a Korean-born chef who was adopted by Caucasian parents and raised in Oklahoma City — got to offer in the way of Chinese food? As it turns out, a lot: he's made a name for himself in both San Francisco and now New York for Mission Chinese Food , which serves affordable Chinese 3.0 dishes like kung pao pastrami and salt cod fried rice out of locations on both coasts. His love of food goes beyond the menu: 75 cents of each main course goes to a food-related charity.
Outstanding Restaurateur: Maguy Le Coze, Le Bernardin
When it opened in 1986, Le Bernardin  garnered a rare four-star rating from The New York Times; in the 27 years that have followed, the restaurant has never lost a star, and it's the only New York restaurant to do so. The reason behind its success is largely credited to Le Bern's tireless founder, Maguy Le Coze. Asked if the restaurant would throw a 25th anniversary celebration, Le Coze responded , "To celebrate what? We are still in the process of leaving an impression."
Outstanding Restaurant: Blue Hill
At Blue Hill , Dan Barber takes the term farm-to-table seriously: the restaurant's own farm and namesake, Blue Hill Farm, supplies the New York eatery with seasonal vegetables, grass-fed meats, and dairy. With its philosophy on sustainable foods, it's no surprise that Blue Hill's generated a loyal following, with fans as huge as President Barack Obama.
Outstanding Service: Del Posto
Mario Batali  made a name for himself cooking rustic Italian, but he and partner Joe Bastianich prove they can elevate the food and wines of Italy to the level of haute cuisine with their Manhattan restaurant Del Posto . "Even the simplest peasant noodle dish is served with multiple rows of silver, on fine bone china, in the most exacting, Michelin-approved style," New York magazine critic Adam Platt wrote  in his review of the restaurant. Expect no less than Italian offal ceremoniously carved tableside, live piano music tinkling in the background, and footstools for ladies' handbags.
Outstanding Chef (Tie): David Chang, Momofuku Noodle Bar
Take 2013's coveted outstanding chef award as an indicator that David Chang's astronomical ascent into chef stardom has yet to show any signs of slowing. The outspoken chef , who started out with Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York's East Village in 2004, stays busy today with Momofuku Ssäm, Booker and Dax, Má Peche, Momofuku Ko, and Milk Bar in New York; outposts in Sydney and Toronto; and Lucky Peach, his quarterly journal published by McSweeney's.
Outstanding Chef (Tie): Paul Kahan, Blackbird
Chicago is arguably America's most exciting food city, and if there's one chef who can take credit for transforming the Windy City's culinary landscape, it's Paul Kahan. At his flagship restaurant, Blackbird , he bucked the notions of fine dining, juxtaposing intelligent service and exacting plates with pop music and a frenetic, jam-packed dining space. Since then, the meat-centric chef has gone on to open sister restaurant Avec, gastropub The Publican, The Violet Hour (also a nominee this year for outstanding bar program), Mexican hot spot Big Star, and a butcher shop, Publican Quality Meats.