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CMT ARTISTS OF THE YEAR 2011    BEHIND-THE-SCENES

Go Behind The Velvet Rope

Gain access to country music's most exclusive event -- CMT Artists of the Year. Preparations are already underway to create the elegant atmosphere required to celebrate the achievements of country music's elite superstars. Fans can watch video, see photos and read more on everything from the customized desserts to the enticing dishes created and prepared by James Beard award-winning chefs.

Chefs

John Currence

Born and raised in New Orleans, Currence was the recipient of both Restaurateur of the Year and Chef of the Year awards from the Mississippi Restaurant Association in 1998. In 2006, he received the Southern Foodways Alliance Guardian of Tradition award and won the 2008 Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans. In 2009, he was awarded the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef South and was a winner of Charleston Food and Wine Festival's Iron Chef Challenge. Currence is a contributing editor for Garden and Gun magazine and is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys bird hunting of all varieties, fishing and golf. Current projects include a cookbook and Adventures of the Big Bad Chef video series -- trips through the lesser known food spots of the Deep South.

R. J. Cooper

As a teen growing up in suburban Detroit, R.J. Cooper dreamt of the day he would become a professional chef. In the late 1990s, Cooper moved to Washington, D.C., built his local resume and joined Vidalia in 2004 as chef de cuisine. Cooper's contemporary philosophy shined as he gradually transformed the menu into a selection of inventive dishes rooted in Southern comfort. His masterful French technique allowed him to mold a menu that offered a clever combination of elegant dishes that remained accessible to the guest. After six successful years, Cooper left Vidalia in 2010 to move forward in the development of several Washington, D.C.-based independent projects. The first project, Rogue 24, is slated to open in early 2011.

Michael Schwartz

A native of Philadelphia, Schwartz first became known to Miami diners in the mid-1990s making his mark as a culinary innovator. After years honing his craft, Schwartz opened Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Miami Design District. Recently honored with the prestigious 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef South, Schwartz is recognized by his peers and diners for his culinary chops and his support of local farmers. In June 2010, Schwartz opened Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Grand Cayman. Working with local fishermen and farmers, he has already begun to shine a spotlight on the rich culinary resources of the Caribbean. Schwartz's first cookbook Michael's Genuine Food: Down to Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat will go on sale in February 2011.

The Food

Deemed "the Oscars of the food world" by Time magazine, the James Beard Foundation awards are the country's most coveted honor for chefs. In support of Gulf seafood, John Currence (2009 winner) is offering up sweet onion and fennel butter poached Gulf shrimp with maque choux corn pudding tart and spicy red pepper coulis. R.J. Cooper (2007 winner) will be presenting smoked pork with heirloom beans, rye organic gastrique and chestnut emulsion. Michael Schwartz (2010 winner) will be preparing slow smoked beef brisket with pumpkin seed pesto, pumpkin panade and aged goat cheese.

The Wine

Since 1961, Heitz Wine Cellars has earned countless accolades for its dazzling wines utilizing french oak barrels stored in a gray stone cellar, originally built in 1898, to allow the flavors to evolve patiently. Located in St. Helena, Calif., the renowned Heitz Cellar will offer up two fine vintages to accompany the dishes prepared by John Currence and Michael Schwartz. R.J. Cooper's course will be paired with a 2008 Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir from their Savoya Vineyard located in Carlton, Ore. Ken Wright Cellars is an award-winning winery that prides itself in its robust wines, particularly the pinot noir, which epitomizes the clarity and depth of the vineyard. In its 26 years, the winery has received distinguished accolades including a five-star "Outstanding" rating from Wine Spectator, Oregon's Best Producers of Pinot Noir and the 2002 Pinot Passion award.

The Trophy

Designed by CMT's Off-Air Art Director Nora Gaffney, the Lucite award is designed to evoke the elegance of the evening with a simple black, white and crystal color palette. The shape, which references a spiral, twists upwards and represents the elevation of country music throughout the year while five grooves etched into the side symbolize the five artists of the year and their significant career achievements.

CMT Artists of the Year - Get Show Times

Creating the Event

Carrie Underwood

An Unforgettable Evening

Take a look at photos from the show as your favorites entertain.

Get the Latest

Read the latest on the CMT Artists of the Year show.

Stunning Simplicity

Watch how floral designers are creating unique arrangements for the CMT Artists of the Year show.

Delectable Dinner

Chef Michael Schwartz will use Maker's Mark barrel bungs to smoke the brisket. Take a look.

Culinary Innovators

Enjoy photos of chefs John Currence, R. J. Cooper and Michael Schwartz preparing for the big night.

Highest Honors

The CMT Artists of the Year award evokes elegance and excellence. See photos.