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Beardless in New Orleans 

  The smart money surely would have been on at least one New Orleanian coming home with a top honor from this year's James Beard Foundation Awards, which were held in New York on May 7. The culinary foundation's five nominees for "Best Chef: South" included four New Orleans chefs: Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, John Harris of Lilette, Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace and Alon Shaya of Domenica.

  But the award went to Chris Hastings, chef of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., and none of the five other New Orleans people or restaurants nominated across the awards categories this year won.

  The smart money was with the handicapping advice from Bret Thorn, a writer for the industry publication Nation's Restaurant News. The winners he picked when finalists were announced back in March proved accurate in many categories, including those of Best Chef: South, Outstanding Restaurant, Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Bar Program.

  "These predictions are based, as they are every year, on the notion that the best nominees are not necessarily selected; the most popular ones are," Thorn wrote in March. "(T)he winners will be the ones about whom there is the most buzz, about whom the media, nationally and, more importantly, in their own regions, feel good about."

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