By Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Americans chefs representing different culinary styles shared the country's highest cooking honor on Monday.
The James Beard Foundation named David Chang, who has helped popularize kimchi and other Korean food in the United States, and Paul Kahan, who has been praised for his creative American cuisine, as outstanding U.S. chefs this year.
Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation lauded Kahan as a "great chef who's creative with a casual flair," while Chang "has brought a modern approach to Asian cuisine that no one else has done before."
It is only the third time in the 20-year-plus history of the awards that its premier prize went to more than one chef. The last time it happened was in 1998 when two European-born chefs, Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, tied. Pioneering chefs Larry Forgione and Jean-Louis Palladin were co-winners in 1993.
Other past winners of the top award include Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio.
The foundation, whose name is a tribute to American food writer James Beard, was founded in 1986 with the goal to recognize and preserve American food history and traditions.
Chang and Kahan both operate Michelin-star restaurants as well as casual eateries.
Chang has expanded his business beyond New York City where he landed on the culinary map in 2004 when he opened the Momofuku Noodle Bar. He now has acclaimed restaurants in Toronto and Sydney.
Kahan has stuck with his Midwest roots with Blackbird and its sister restaurant, which is called avec, next door in Chicago.
For the two, the win was a platform to express their mutual admiration.
"Blackbird is one of my favorite restaurants," said Chang. "It set a tone to create something I would like to do and follow."
Kahan added: "We draw inspiration from each other. He thinks outside the box."
The Blue Hill restaurant, co-owned by chef Dan Barber, won outstanding U.S. restaurant. Barber, a pioneer of the "farm-to-table" concept, was awarded the title of outstanding chef in 2009.
Chef Danny Bowien won the "rising star" prize. The Korean-born chef, who grew up in Oklahoma, has generated buzz for his innovative spins on Chinese dishes at his Mission Chinese Food restaurants in New York and San Francisco.
"It's a small shift from super serious food," Bowien said.
Brooks Headley claimed best U.S. pastry chef this year for his work at the Michelin-star Italian restaurant Del Posto.
The best new restaurant accolade was awarded to State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. The restaurant, opened by the husband and wife team Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinki, has won praises for their playful mix of small plates served Chinese "dim-sum" style.
In non-competition categories, Cecilia Chiang, who helped introduce northern Chinese food to America, earned the group's lifetime achievement, while celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse was named humanitarian of the year.
(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney and Elaine Lies)