Currently working Chicago journalists were up for six James Beard journalism awards this year, but in the end, only Nina Barrett of WBEZ went home Friday night with a prize for her radio series Fear of Frying. Congratulations anyway to nominee Kevin Pang, who had the best excuse for not attending: having recently written his first-person foodie love story, he was on his honeymoon. (He’s reportedly in New York now for the chef awards.) Expand the category beyond current Chicagoans, however, and there was a big winner in ex-Chicago magaziner Ted Allen, who had co-hosted the awards last year but this year won Media Personality or Host (the final award of the night) while his show Chopped won Best TV Program, In-Studio or Fixed Location. Having to give two speeches, he had trouble remembering all of his show’s judges by the end, and his show’s table cheered him wildly (not so sure about the tables around them).
Held at the cavernously grand Gotham Hall (which was the lobby of a bank that went belly up in the S&L; scandal in the 80s), the ceremony was accompanied by a dinner made from James Beard’s own recipes to mark the 25th anniversary of the awards. The evening started with the book awards, which went to some obvious hits this year, such as "Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef" by Gabrielle Hamilton, who joked in light of the recent ghostwriting controversy that her book had actually been written with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Interestingly, two of the big winners were highly ambitious self-published projects which reinvented the cookbook paradigm: Nathan Myhrvold’s "Modernist Cuisine," which won Cooking From a Professional Point of View and later the Cookbook of the Year award, and "Notes From a Kitchen," whose author Jeff Scott willfully violated the 30-second-rule on award speeches with a long ode to why chefs inspire us, to the point that audience members groaned when he would flip to the next index card. (Self-publisher looking for editor…) Unlike more hidebound award committees (rhymes with Schmulitzer), the Beards make a point of trying to be platform-neutral (i.e., major magazine, website, it’s all good), and apparently the same applies to books published outside the (nonetheless extremely well-represented) mainstream publishing industry.
Saveur was the big magazine winner (shutting Bon Appetit out of many of the same categories); besides winning the overall award for Food Coverage in a General-Interest Publication, last year’s "Barbecue Nation" cover story won Southern Foodways Alliance chief John T. Edge the M.F.K. Fisher Award for distinguished writing, and it was also one of the pieces that won photographer Landon Nordeman the Visual Storytelling award.
Alan Richman of GQ, holder of many other Beard awards (in fact, the most Beard-decorated individual of any type) finally won the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award after half a dozen previous nominations. Cal Fussman, who won for a piece in Esquire about Windows on the World, the celebrated restaurant in the World Trade Center, was another who willfully blew past the 30-second limit with a somewhat self-important (in classic New York fashion) but nonetheless moving tribute to the fact that his piece had won on the very day that the new One World Trade Center building became the tallest building in New York City.
Another moving moment was the nomination to the Cookbook Hall of Fame of the late Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, which was accepted by her daughter. And on the subject of being platform-neutral, the awards committee decided to name two Publications of the Year: the print journal Gastronomica and Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs’ crowd-sourced cooking website Food52.