Last Friday I took the train down to New York City to attend the 2012 James Beard Federation Awards dinner as a nominee at the Books, Broadcast and Journalism awards. It is the JBF’s 25th annual awards celebration.
When I heard my name announced over the livestream broadcast from the press lunch in Las Vegas in March I almost fell off my chair in surprise. My cover story for The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine about the foodie renaissance in America had been nominated under the category “Best Food Coverage in a General Interest Publication.”
The other two nominees, Los Angeles Magazine and New York Magazine, had submitted very different packages. Those entries were more like mini Bon Appetit magazines within their publications, instead of the broad, 3,000-word trend story I had written.
“It’s like apples and arugula,” said John Yemma, the Monitor’s editor, when I told him that my entry looked like a square peg when compared with the other two in my category. I wasn’t really sure what to expect on award night. For a lot of major journalism awards, writers often have to be nominated more than once before they earn an actual award.
I decided at the very least, this was going to be a great party in New York, an up-close look at some of the movers and shakers in the food world, and a lot of fantastic eats.
Plus, riding the train is a lot of fun.
And so is any excuse to get your hair, makeup, and nails done.
And looking out your hotel window to see the Empire State Building is the bomb. It just doesn’t happen every day.
Live it up!, I say. Being nominated felt like a win in itself.
The awards for Books, Broadcast, and Journalism were held at Gotham Hall – formerly, a bank. High up on the wall opposite our table No. 5 were these words to ponder: “Waste neither time nor money but use both for own and neighbor’s good. There is no gain so sure as that which results from economizing what you have.”
When we walked into the lobby we were checked in on iPad tablets, and then nominees were given “Nominee” stickers to wear. I suppose to facilitate conversation during the cocktail hour. There were a lot of “Nominee” stickers in the crowd.
Below the balcony where the cocktail hour was being held were about 30 tables set up for dinner. The circling hors d’oeuvres included zucchini gazpacho with Meyer lemon and trout roe; thyme-roasted sirloin with shallot agrodolce and ficelle; sweet pea pod with arugula pesto, pine nuts, and mint; and quail egg in a hole with truffle fondue and chervil. And that’s not even the complete list. My brother, Dayton, and I quickly discovered that being positioned next to the elevator was the optimal spot to scoop these delectable bites off the silver serving trays as the servers emerged onto the floor.
More uncouth behavior on my part including the shameless use of my iPhone camera, like asking Nathalie Dupree to pose with me and my mom.
Nathalie told me she started her career at The Christian Science Monitor. Cool! Then I said, “What are you doing now?”
“Oh,” she replied offhandedly, “I write cookbooks.” Like 10. And she serves on the Beard award committee. Heh. Oops.
At some point in the swirl of hors d’oeuvres and smartly dressed foodies my brother remarked, “Hey, this is pretty impressive!” I’m glad it finally sunk in.
We made our way down to the tables.
At our table were the folks from PBS’s “A Taste of History” with Emmy award-wining Chef Walter Staib and writer Todd Kliman, who had been nominated for his piece “The Problem of Authenticity” in Lucky Peach. (We later called ourselves the table of “also rans,” since alas, none of us got to wear a James Beard medallion home that night.)
Our appetizer was tea-smoked salmon with XO sauce and imperial rice, created by Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook.
The main course was organic chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, ramps, and white mushrooms with cognac by Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter. The entree arrived just as they were announcing my category, and I promptly lost my appetite.
You can see a video of The Big Moment here that Dayton recorded on his iPhone. When Los Angeles Magazine won my category, he respectfully lowered the camera so you’ll miss my reaction which was disappointment tinged with relief that I didn’t have to make a 30-second acceptance speech.
Dessert eased away any other anxiety with a chocolate cream pie with a cookie crust, featuring Green & Black’s organic chocolate by Carla Hall of Alchemy. Divine!
The chefs all came out for a Chef’s Parade at one point and we cheered and applauded. No invisible caterers at this event.
I was so pleased that Gabrielle Hamliton won for Writing and Literature with her “Blood, Bones and Butter” memoir which is on my all-time favorite books list. Also Amanda Hesser and her crew over at Food52 won for Publication of the Year, along with Gastronomica.
You can see the complete list of 2012 award winners here.
I was so thrilled to be nominated so I could participate in this fun night in New York!
But most of all, it was a rare and cherished moment to spend with my mom and brother.
The next day, after breakfast at a diner that appalled Mom, Dayton left on a train back to up Boston and we visited the Ground Zero Memorial – stunning in its vastness and eery with the continuous waterfall that disappears into a dark, square hole at the base of the World Trade Center Tower footprints.
On a lighter note, Mom and I walked along the waterfront, passed Wall Street and just a few blocks from the law office where she worked as a young lawyer fresh out of Harvard Law School.
We made our way to the East Village to Gabrielle Hamilton’s tiny, pink-trimmed French restaurant, Prune, for a late second brunch of coddled eggs and roasted chicken and ricotta with raspberries, dried figs, honey, and pine nuts with a side of deep-fried mini scones sprinkled with powdered sugar. It was the perfect finish to what has turned out to be remarkable year in food.
That night, in a departure from the upbeat musical productions one usually experiences on Broadway, we saw “Other Desert Cities.” In a few words it is intense, dramatic, and thought-provoking. So much excellence happens in New York all at once.
All-in-all, it was a perfect weekend in The City. We even had four kinds of cupcakes from my friend Kelly for the train ride home. My mom’s parting remarks as she got off the train at her stop, “Write something else so we can do this again next year!”
I’ll get right on it.