Last evening Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center was aglow with lights and awash with food luminaries -chefs and cookbook writers; book, magazine and newspaper food editors; editors and publishers - and throngs of well-heeled foodies. The crowd was mostly young, fashionable and sophisticated, and well-peppered with svelt young fashionistas dressed in shimmery backless dresses and skyscraper tall evening shoelettes.
Despite the 95 degree heat that besot NYC, the crowd was enthusiastic and cheered vigorously for each nominee that was announced a winner. In our category – Reference Book – the award went to the book:“ A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America.” We send our congratulations to author Rowan Jacobsen for his win and wish him a thousand reprints of his inspired book.
While we were disappointed for ourselves in the result, we are still thrilled to have received this coveted nomination and are very proud of this accomplishment for our book: “The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide.” We did get to personally congratulate our friends and colleagues Peter Reinhart and Anne Willan for their wins in their respective categories, and we were thrilled for Chef Patrick Connolly of Radius in Boston for his win in Best Chef: Northeast Category.
Writer Russ Parsons of the LA Times and author and chef Anthony Bourdain were inducted into the 2008 James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage In America Inductees. A very special touch was added to the evening with the announcement of a new category of James Beard Awards called America’s Classic Awards, which were presented throughout the evening to small regional restaurants, watering holes, lunch counters, or eateries that have offered good, down-home food and unmatched hospitality for generations. You know this kind of place – the family run places we grew up with all across America and the places that we still love for their regional food specialties, quirkinesses and genuine character. The audience got to know each of these establishments in a 3 minute clip and interview with the owner: Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville, ME; Jumbo’s in Miami, FL; Irma’s Restaurant in Houston, TX: Maneki in Seattle, WA;Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap in Chicago, IL.
After the awards ceremony, chefs, authors and attendees feasted on a bounty of delicious dishes created by notable chefs using artisan ingredients from favored providers and farmers. Some of the fanciful treats we tasted were: Buffalo Empanadas with Chimichurri; Braised Pork Belly with Pickled Peach Salad, Molasses-Glazed Scarlet Turnips and Peach Butter; Squash Blossoms with Handmade Sheeps-Milk Ricotta, Heirloom Tomatoes and Sicilian Peston Pantesca; Pork and Hazelnut Terrine with Beet Chutney and Lovage Salad; Telepan Scrapple with Poached Egg and Sweet Pork Sauce; Corn Tamales with Smoked Tamworth Bacon in Panca-Pepper Brown Sugar Adobo, Valley Shepherd Sheep and Cows Milk Cheese, and Fava Bean-Zarza Relish.
So the awards party is over and it is time to get back to work. We have a new book that we are beginning to write and a new season of fresh tea to look after. As always, spending time with colleagues in the food industry inspires us to be our best and to work even harder to promote awareness of the artisan food products that we are so proud to sell.
James Beard was a food visionary, and in his 1974 book Beard on Food he said: ” It is my dream to see the continent spanned, from coast to coast, with big common markets filled with good things to eat and take home, like a huge United Nations of supermarkets and specialty markets under one roof. What a great advance for the American table it would be. “
Great advance, indeed. I think if James Beard were alive today, he would be pleased to see the direction that American food has taken. And at the proliferation of farmers markets, bread bakers, cheesemakers, honey producers, etc that have joined the American food revolution. As a nation, we are, at long last, appreciating our collective heritage and the efforts of farmers and food producers. These dedicated men and women not only keep our dinner plate filled but also respect both our great food traditions and the health of the land by growing and producing regionally-based foods, farming organically and according to the natural cycle of the seasons.
Remembering that our food can only be as good as the ingredients that we use, we are proud to join the James Beard Foundation in their salute to artisan food producers.