NEW YORK -- Food may not have been their first calling, but coming late to the culinary scene clearly hasn't slowed David Chang and Paul Kahan.
On Monday, the two were jointly honored as the nation's most outstanding chefs by the James Beard Foundation, an exclamation point on circuitous careers that began in other fields -- Chang in finance and Kahan in computer science -- but saw them quickly ascend to the top of the restaurant world.
The men -- only the third pair to tie for the top chef award in the foundation's history -- have been lauded as restaurant revolutionaries.
Chang's edgy, in-your-face style, not to mention a deft hand with steamed pork buns, has resulterd in a global empire of media and restaurants, including New York's Momofuku Ko and Ma Peche -- some of the hottest, hard-to-get tables in the city.
Chang owes his second career largely to an obsession with ramen noodles, which led him to Tokyo and eventually back to school for a culinary degree (his first had been in religion). By 2004, he opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and accolades piled up. New York Times critic Frank Bruni even called Chang "the New York restaurant world's equivalent of Tiger Woods or Roger Federer."
Kahan is at the forefront of Chicago's increasingly robust restaurant scene. After leaving computer science, he spent years apprenticing to some of the city's top talent, including Rick Bayless. He spun that experience into an award-winning restaurant group that includes Blackbird, Avec and The Publican, all of which reflect his own culinary obsession -- sustainably sourced ingredients and close relationships with producers.
The James Beard awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985.
Monday's ceremony honored chefs and restaurants; a similar event on Friday was held for book and other media awards. Previous ties for the outstanding chef award went to Larry Forgione and Jean-Louis Palladin in 1993, and Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in 1998.
Chang has won three previous Beard awards, including for best new restaurant for Momofuku Ko in 2009 and rising star chef in 2007. Kahan was named a regional best chef in 2004. Both men lost out for the same honor last year to Daniel Humm, the chef behind New York's Eleven Madison Park.
The foundation's top restaurant award this year went to Dan Barber's Blue Hill in New York City. Barber -- who was the foundation's top chef in 2009 -- follows a minimalist culinary philosophy that he calls "American seasonal." He believes exceptional ingredients should be allowed to stand on their own. A signature dish is "vegetables on a fence," baby vegetables simply prepared and presented speared on a row of upright prongs.
"I feel like the luckiest chef in America today," Barber said. He jokingly credited his restaurant's success in part to the difficulty of finding it on New York's back streets. "They are so much hungrier than they would have been," he said. "I have this feeling, this conviction that the food tastes better than it otherwise would."
State Bird Provisions in San Francisco -- known for its dizzying array of small plates served from a cart by husband-and-wife team Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski -- was named best new restaurant.
Meanwhile, Del Posto -- Mario Batali's ode to fine dining in New York -- took home two awards, outstanding service and outstanding pastry chef (Brooks Headley).
The group's Lifetime Achievement award went to chef and restaurateur Cecilia Chiang, who founded San Francisco's Mandarin Restaurant and has been credited with introducing Mandarin cuisine to the United States.
The Humanitarian of the Year honor went to Emeril Lagasse, whose Emeril Lagasse Foundation in New Orleans supports nonprofit and educational programs aimed at disadvantaged children.
The group's efforts, which are focused in communities where Lagasse has restaurants, have included creating an outdoor classroom, school gardens, a fresh foods cafeteria and a culinary learning center.
The Beard Foundation also named its top regional chefs around the country: Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat in Chicago (Great Lakes); Johnny Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C. (Mid-Atlantic); Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo. (Midwest); Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 (New York City);
Also: Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, Maine formerly of the Sheepherder's Inn in Old Chatham, NY (Northeast); Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore. (Northwest); Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans (South).
Also: Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. (Southeast); Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver (Southwest); Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif. (West).
Restaurant, chef award winners
--The winners of the 2013 James Beard Foundation restaurant and chef awards announced Monday are:
NATIONAL CHEF AWARDS
• Outstanding Restaurant: Blue Hill in New York City
• Outstanding Chef: David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City and Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago
• Best New Restaurant: State Bird Provisions in San Francisco
• Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Winery in Sebastopol, Calif.
• Outstanding Wine Program: Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo.
• Outstanding Bar Program: The Aviary in Chicago
• Outstanding Service: Del Posto in New York City
• Outstanding Pastry Chef: Brooks Headley of Del Posto in New York City
• Outstanding Restaurateur: Maguy Le Coze of Le Bernardin in New York City
• Rising Star Chef of the Year: Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York City
REGIONAL CHEF AWARDS
• Great Lakes: Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat in Chicago
• Mid-Atlantic: Johnny Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C.
• Midwest: Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo.
• New York City: Wylie Dufresne of wd-50
• Northeast: Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, Maine, formerly with the Sheepherder's Inn in Old Chatham, N.Y.
• Northwest: Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore.
• South: Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in New Orleans
• Southeast: Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
• Southwest: Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver
• West: Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif.
• C.F. Folks in Washington, D.C.
Owner: Art Carlson
• Frank Fat's in Sacramento, Calif.
Owners: The Fat family
• Keens Steakhouse in New York City
Owner: George Schwarz
• Kramarczuk's in Minneapolis
Owner: Orest Kramarczuk
• Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville
Owner: Andre Prince Jeffries
Who's Who of Food & Beverage
• Eric Asimov, author and journalist, New York City
• Dorothy Kalins, editor, New York City
• Barbara Lynch, chef and restaurateur, Boston
• Zarela Martinez, chef and restaurateur, New York City
• Michael Mina, chef and restaurateur, San Francisco
• Bill Yosses, author and pastry chef, Washington, D.C.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Cecilia Chiang, chef and restaurateur, San Francisco
Humanitarian of the Year
Emeril Lagasse, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, New Orleans.
-- Associated Press