Restaurant owners and chefs from across North America gathered in New Orleans last week, not only to dine well at the city's numerous restaurants, but to celebrate the accomplishments of their peers. At its annual conference, held from Oct. 13 to 17 at the Fairmont Hotel, Distinguished Restaurants of North America announced its 1999 DiRoNA Award winners.
Every year, DiRoNA -- a Monterey, Calif.-based nonprofit group of restaurateurs founded to promote fine dining in the United States, Canada and Mexico -- recognizes some of the best restaurants in North America. This is the eighth year DiRoNA has given out its awards, and the list of award winners now totals 676.
Among the 64 new award winners this year are Le Cirque 2000 in New York; The Abbey in Atlanta; The Oakroom in Louisville, Ky.; The Oval Room in Washington, D.C., and The Tyrolean in Vail, Colo. For a complete list, click here.
"In the past, many DiRoNA Award recipients were located almost exclusively in major cities," noted chairman Paul Athanas, of Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston. "Increasingly, however, we're finding more fine dining restaurants in smaller towns and cities like Woodstock, Virginia, Durham, North Carolina, and Vail, Colorado. Fine dining is clearly on the rise in communities across North America."
To qualify for the DiRoNA Award, a restaurant must be in business under the same ownership for three years and pass a 75-point evaluation conducted anonymously by trained inspectors. The evaluation process encompasses all aspects of the dining experience, from reservations to cuisine and decor to how well the restaurant accommodates smoking and nonsmoking guests. Each award is given for a three-year period, at which point the restaurant must be reevaluated.
This year, DiRoNA also handed out its first Extra Plate Humanitarian Award, which will be given annually to a chef or restaurateur who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to his community through charitable service or contributions. Chef Warren Leruth, former owner of LeRuth's in New Orleans, earned the 1999 award for his work with the St. Michael's Special School, for which he has helped raise more than $1 million.
The conference marked the launch of the DiRoNA Delivers program, facilitating the donation of food from the conference to local charities. This year, Second Helpings, a New Orleans food bank, gathered the food for distribution. "It seems only natural that the restaurant industry should make a contribution doing what it does best -- feeding people," said DiRoNA's vice chairman, chef John Folse.
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