Restaurant Reporter
Jan Butsch Schroder

Just about every industry has its awards ceremony: the Oscars for the movies, the Golden Globes for entertainers with the most aggressive publicists and the Skovie Awards for categories such as best snacks and condiments. (FYI – Mel’s Sweet Inferno Pickles won 1st place in the pickled division for 2008.)

Recently the Georgia Restaurant Association honored its own with the first-ever Grace Awards and my husband agreed to attend with me, with the condition that he wouldn’t wear a tux, because “Tom Murphy isn’t wearing one.” When we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead, we wove our way through the elegantly decked-out guests, all in varying shades of black, towards the jostling lines at the bar where we spotted our friend and Murphy’s co-owner Tom Murphy, wearing a tux of course, “because my suit is at the cleaners!”

I was delighted to be seated at a table with Fred Genovese and Kevin Jenkins, AKA Chef and the Fatman, the men responsible for radio’s first-ever cooking show. In between awards and a speech by Ted Turner, notable only for no real morsels of political incorrectness, I heard the story of how the show evolved and look forward to listening to it soon. (It airs Saturdays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on AM 1160.)

During the speeches we learned that the hospitality industry is second only to the government in the number of people employed in Georgia. That’s a lot of eating and greeting. We also learned that Atlantans spend more money per capita eating out than any other city, which totally explains why you often have to choose between a 5:30 and a 10:30 reservation and you can idle away a gallon of gas at the Chick-fil-A drive-through.

Anyway, back to the awards. Unlike many award dinners that seem to stretch into next Tuesday with categories such as best parking job by a left-handed, red-haired employee driving a green SUV during the month of October, the Grace Awards presented awards in just five categories. These are the winners:

1) Restaurateur of the Year: Fifth Group Restaurants

2) Industry Partner of the Year: U.S. Foodservice (accepted by Keith Knight)

3) Distinguished Service Award: Chef Michael Deihl of East Lake Golf Club

4) The Innovator Award: Bob Amick of Concentrics Restaurants

5) The Lifetime Achievement Award: co-winners Pano Karatassos of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and George W. McKerrow, Jr. of Ted’s Montana Grill.

By far the best awards event I’ve ever attended, the Grace Awards were a class event. The food was excellent, (grilled shrimp and beef tenderloin!) the honorees oh-so-deserving and even the award itself was no slouch – a gorgeous glass sculpture created by Hans-Godo Frabel, which definitely belongs high on a shelf away from errant elbows and Labrador tails. A portion of proceeds from the event will be donated to two long-term GRA charity partners – Project Open Hand and Atlanta Community Food Bank, yet another testimony to the amazing generosity of the restaurant industry in Atlanta.