The James Beard Awards are akin to the Oscars in the culinary world, and they're doled out over two heady ceremonies: one more staid affair for food-related media; the other, a gala of sorts, for restaurants and chefs. Competing are the best writers, chefs, and television personalities from across the country.
So last Friday, when Vermonters scored four of those shiny medals for culinary books and journalism — three of them alone for the folk at Charlotte's EatingWell media group — it was a Green Mountain coup. EatingWell food editor Jessie Price and crew took home the top prize for Cookbook with a Healthy Focus for the sleek, 520-page The Simple Art of Eating Well; contributing editor Rachael Moeller Gorman's "Captain of the Happier Meal" won in the Health and Nutrition journalism category, and Carl Safina's "Sea Change," about the boons of eating sardines and other tiny fish, aced the Environment, Food Politics, and Policy category.
Safina beat out Vergennes writer Barry Estabrook for that last award, but happily Estabrook went home with a medal for individual food blog for his politicsoftheplate.com. On his site, Estabrook thanked Ruth Reichl (among others) for encouraging him to blog in the first place.
Not all was wine and roses, though. In advance of the splashy restaurant and chef awards last night, a group of servers and friends trekked down to NYC in support of Chef Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood at Grist Mill; it was his third time (!) nominated as Best Chef in the Northeast. But the medal went to Tony Maws of Craigie On Main in Cambridge, Mass., who uses New England ingredients to craft "slow food" for the buzzy Boston masses. It makes us wonder if the James Beard folk look to Vermont for their writers and the city for their chefs; any talented chef working in the umbra of a big city has to work that much harder to stand out. Warnstedt and friends probably had a great time regardless — Prune and Blue Hill were on their list of places to hit up.
Accepting his award for the country's most outstanding chef, José Andrés of minibar in Washington, D.C. — known in part for popularizing tapas in the United States — paid tribute to the transformative power of food. "Food is the most powerful thing we have. Food can be the answer to so many things," he gushed from the stage. Few know that more than us. Congrats to all!
Today I talked with Lisa Gosselin, EatingWell's editorial director. At Friday's intimate awards ceremony, nominees sipped crafted cocktails and ate dishes from top chefs. "You're sitting with the huge luminaries of the food world, the people we admire so much — people like Barry Estabrook. We think the world of him," she said. She was happy to see EW's neighbor win for his Politics of the Plate blog, but even more thrilled with her little media company's stunning hat-trick. "It's so exciting to see Simple Art win. Everybody in our kitchen worked so hard on that [book], and we're happy to be recognized for the things we really focus on and care about like health, sustainability and delicious food." See her post=ceremony write-up here.
Photo courtesy of EatingWell. Pictured: Asst. Mananging Editor Alesia Depot, art director Amanda Coyle, writer Rachael Moeller Gorman, Countryman Press publisher Kermit Hummel, Food Editor Jessie Price, Test Kitchen Director Stacy Fracer, Assoc. Food Editor Carolyn Malcoun.