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James Beard Chefs And Champagne 2011: A Gourmet Night To Honor Emeril Lagasse (PHOTOS)

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Emeril Lagasse was the honoree at this year's Chefs and Champagne, an annual James Beard Foundation-sponsored event at the Wolffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, N.Y., but that didn't stop the celebrity chef from joining 42 culinary superstars to serve small bites of his best food to more than 900 attendees enjoying the evening.

Lagasse served chilled shrimp with a traditional remoulade sauce -- and, despite the presence of an obligatory security guard, made a point of stopping to snap photos and sign autographs for his food-loving fans.

"It's important to keep it real," Lagasse said before he was honored with this year's award. "When it comes right down to it, I put my pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of the world ... I work hard, and I put the hours in ... I'm very grateful to be where I am."

The walkaround tasting featured offerings from some of the biggest names in the restaurant world today -- New York heavy hitters including Marcus Samuelsson, Missy Robbins, Sara Jenkins, David Pasternack, Daniel Boulud and Marc Forgione all participated in the event, handing out their dishes and prepping alongside their sous-chefs in the blazing July heat.

Guests braving the 90-plus degree weather washed down bites of spicy lobster, foie gras and truffled scallops with bottomless glasses of bubbly from champagne sponsor Nicolas Feuillatte, local wines from Wolffer Vineyeard and beer from Stella Artois, Leffe, and Hoegaarden.

The appearance of both Martha Stewart and -- more surprisingly -- Richard Gere in the crowd added an element of surreality as the night wore on. Despite sweat-soaked dress shirts and sundresses, the crowd continued tasting -- with periodic trips to the blessedly air-conditioned restrooms. The end of the night saw attendees making off with half-full bottles of champagne, a visibly inebriated man hoisting a massive wine glass filled with two bottles of rosé and a surprisingly organized handout of gourmet food-stuffed gift bags.

Check out photos of some of the best -- and most beautiful -- tastes of the evening here:

Highlights From James Beard 'Chefs and Champagne' Honoring Emeril Lagasse
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