Nathalie Dupree’s largest and most ambitious cookbook, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” bested all others Friday night in the American Cooking category of the 2013 James Beard Foundation book awards.

The award, presented in New York City at a gala dinner, made Dupree a three-time Beard winner. Dupree, who lives in Charleston, co-authored the 720-page tome published in the fall with Cynthia Graubart of Atlanta.

Minutes after the award was announced, Dupree said she was surprised.

“I just cannot believe it. I didn’t expect to win.”

Dupree said Graubart, who was with her, was in tears.

“I’m so thrilled for Cynthia and for all my testers and apprentices, all the people who worked on these recipes for six years. I’m so grateful.”

“It’s such great news,” said author and food celebrity Ted Lee of Charleston’s Lee brothers. Lee, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., called the award “huge” against stiff competition.

“It’s high time we had a major monumental volume devoted to technique and craft in Southern cooking. ‘Mastering’ manages to be an excellent how-to bible for the Southern kitchen as well as a hugely entertaining and lively read.”

The local suspense continues for the awards, known as the “Oscars” of the food world, until the foundation’s gala ceremony Monday night. That’s when restaurant and chef winners will be revealed, and Charleston has two finalists in the hunt.

Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk is up for Outstanding Chef. The Ordinary oyster bar and seafood house, opened just five months ago by chef Mike Lata and business partner Adam Nemirow, is a contender for Best New Restaurant.

Dupree, who holds an advanced certificate from London’s Cordon Bleu, is the author of 11 cookbooks focusing on the American South, entertaining and basic cooking.

She was a pioneer of “new Southern cooking” that arose more than 30 years ago and blended regional ingredients with French and Southern cooking techniques.

She began at her restaurant in Georgia in the early 1970s, continuing on as chef, director and teacher for Rich’s Cooking School in Atlanta from 1975 to the mid-1980s. She went on to host more than 300 television programs on the Food Network, the Learning Channel and PBS.

Her previous books have been nominated five times and she has won twice, for “Southern Memories” and “Comfortable Entertaining.”

Dupree also is a Post and Courier columnist and does video recipes for the newspaper’s website. She is married to author Jack Bass.

Semifinalists for the awards were selected from more than 44,000 online entries in 20 categories. Finalists in each category were determined by more than 600 culinary professionals across the country.

The New York-based foundation, which counts more than 4,000 members, in March held its annual announcement of finalists in Charleston for the first time.