Yes, you thought it might be over but the fantastic food kept a coming!
Some spring peas in their pods, first-of-the-season softshell crab, and a wild mushroom tortellini. THEN, some asparagus, an AMAZING halibut porterhouse and some macaroon cookies for dessert.
At the end, I did get a shot with Chef Alex Guarnaschelli before I headed to the airport and back to Denver!
One of my biggest scores for the James Beard Awards weekend was an invite to the “Southern Mafia” lunch. It’s a great time for some folks to gather and support the Southern Foodways Alliance. The meal was hosted by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli at her Manhattan restaurant Butter. It’s cool how the restaurant is underground with big windows above. At times, you feel like you like you’re looking up from a forest floor. This meal was EPIC, yo! We got a series of small plates. Here’s a look at the first wave of what we ate:
(Moving left to right) Pheasant deviled eggs, pureed liver with spring vegetables and country pate with diced persimmon.
A lonely piece of foie gras on some bread remains from a full platter (because I was too slow to take a picture before people started grubbing!), a trio of Parker House rolls, and a spring lettuce salad with a raspberry vinaigrette.
Next up was duck mortadella with berries and caramelized shallots, pickled carrots and radishes, and fried calamari with lemon slices and a red pepper sauce, roasted turnips, and another dressed salad.
You may not know that there are two James Beard Foundation Award ceremonies–one for those who talk about, televise and write about food and the more well-known other for the chefs and the restaurants.
I arrived at the Gotham Hotel in New York City on May 2nd (with Andrew Zimmern right behind me) and saw this:
At the swanky pre-dinner mixer, there were mixologists like this guy doing their thing–thought not everyone stirred with both hands going at the same time:
Here’s a look at the room. Even though thee James Beard Foundation Awards are called the “Oscars for Foodies,” the ceremony reminds one of the Screen Actors Guild award that once attended–you’re sitting down for a nice dinner instead of an auditorium.
I had been warned by previous attendees that the awards were going to run all night, so I was quite surprised that this appeared so after I sat down and started eating dinner. I had to seriously scramble to get this shot before it disappeared forever.
The incomparable Lidia Bastianich (look at the bottom of the first picture) introduced my category (“Reference and Scholarship”), and listed the nominees. Then it happened, Soul Food won! What an amazing feeling! When I collected myself, I expected to hear polite applause but there were actually screams of support. I had a lot of love in that room.
I went up to the podium, and gave my one minute acceptance speech. I didn’t write out my speech, so as best as I can remember, here’s what I said:
“Wow! This is really cool!
Thank you to the James Beard Foundation for this tremendous honor. I want to thank my parents, Hyman and Johnetta Miller for raising me on soul food in the suburbs of Denver. (Laughter from the audience). I know, I know what you’re thinking, so let me just say that, yes, there are black people in Colorado. (More laughter) And when we think of greens, we’re not thinking about marijuana. We’re thinking about collards, cabbage, kale, mustard and turnip greens. (More laughter)
I want to thank my agent, Tony Gardner for believing in this project from the beginning. I thank Elaine Maisner at the University of North Carolina Press for saying yes. I also thank everyone else at UNC Press who helped make this book a success. I hope that at some point over this weekend that you’ll pause and raise a glass of red drink, preferably red Kool-Aid, in honor of all the unnamed African American chefs who helped create this wonderful cuisine called “soul food” and helped shape American cuisine. Thank you.”
Lots of people came up to me during the course of the weekend, and told me that I gave one of the best acceptance speeches. Just another way to make a brown man blush.
I exited offstage and when to an area to sip some champagne and take a publicity shot. I have a semi-serious one on my Facebook page, but here’s my really goofy one (courtesy of Ken Goodman photography).:
I returned to the my table, and not too long after that, Lisa Fain who was sitting two chairs to my right at the same table won for “Individual Food Blog”! I won’t repeat what she said, but suffice it to say, she was pretty surprised that she won. After the southern cheese plate, I got this chance to “cheese” with her. I met Lisa (pictured below on the right) several years ago at a Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. Congrats again, Lisa, and you should check out her Homesick Texan blog! I also want to acknowledge my fellow UNC Press author Helen Zoe Veit (pictured on the left) who was up for the same award for her book Moral Food, Modern Food. She was wonderful to me the entire time, and I hope that you check her book as well.
A wonderful night that I’ll never forget! Thanks again to the James Beard Foundation for choosing Soul Food.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you walk around wearing your medal?
No. What better way is there to show that the whole thing has gone to your head?
Do you sleep wearing your medal?
No. My stuffed animals would get jealous.
Do you shower wearing your medal?
No. I’m not a freak.
Are you a chef?
Nope. I’m just a curious guy with an appetite for history and great food.
Do you run a restaurant?
No. Who would want to do all of that work?
Is your book a cookbook?
No. Though it contains recipes, it’s really a narrative history.
Do you feel like you’ve won an “Oscar for Foodies”?
Absolutely! This is one of the highest accolades that I could get as a food writer. I’m already comparing myself to George Clooney and Jamie Foxx (oops, wrong category . . . they’re actors).
That’s it. Those, especially the first three, are the most frequent questions I’ve gotten since winning the award. For more practical and less personal questions, like “Who was James Beard?” and “What does this foundation do?,” check out www.jamesbeard.org/about.
The 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards Dinner was an amazing experience! The weekend was a blur so my bad on the delay in posting. First, here’s a rundown of the meal:
Matt and Ted Lee (a.k.a. “The Lee Brothers”) were our hosts for the evening, and they brought us the “Amuse Bouche” which was:
Blue Crab Salad with Sea Kale and Bay Flower
It was paired with Stella Artois beer and Jacob’s Creek Barossa Reserve Riesling 2009.
The appetizer was prepared by Chef Steven Satterfield of the Miller Union restaurant in Atlanta.
Smoked Cobia with Spring Vegetables and Meyer Lemon paired with a Brancott B Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
I was REALLY enjoying this when my name was called. By the time I had accepted the award, sipped some champagne, taken a publicity shot, my plate had been cleared by the time I got to the table. Talk about being bummed.
The entrée was prepared by Anne Quantrano of Bacchanalia restaurant in Atlanta.
White Oak Pastures Guinea Hen with Georgia Asparagus, Fennel, Preserved Lemon and Natural Consommé paired with a Ysios Reserva Rioja 2006.
I may have had Guinea hen in the past, but I just don’t recall. I thought it was tasty, and I look forward to eating other versions of it.
Star Provisions selected an array of southern cheese:
Garrett’s Ferry (a Many Fold Farm sheep’s milk cheese), Hunkadora (a Prodigal Farm goat’s milk cheese), Nickajack (a Sequatchie Cove Creamery raw cow’s milk cheese), Fortsonia (a Nature’s Harmony Farm raw cow’s milk cheese) and Elberton Blue (a Nature’s Harmony Farm raw cow’s milk cheese).
I had a hunk of burning love for the Hunkadora!
And for the dessert from Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Bakery in Durham, NC . . .
Anson Mills Appalachian buckwheat stack cake with North Carolina strawberries, green berry preserves and buttermilk custard.
With the NBA Finals getting underway, I felt it was appropriate to provide this public service announcement: San Antonio has got soul food! When I ate my way through the country in 2011, I was pleasantly surprised to find two very legit soul food restaurants in the San Antonio area. The first is:
Mr. and Mrs. G’s Home Cooking
I visited this gem on a Friday, and it was only appropriate that I ordered some fish. It was a typically “meat ‘n’ three” setup, so I went through the line and got some bone-in, whole catfish, black-eyed peas, collard greens, yellow squash and some cornbread. The catfish was on point with all the signs you would expect from something pan-fried: black specks here and there, crispy on the outside and piping-hot on the inside. The black-eyed peas were earthy and creamy, though I couldn’t tell if there any ham hocks or smoked turkey used for seasoning. The squash was happily married with some onion slices and pepper. The cornbread muffin was sweet, but not cakelike, and fit squarely within the soul food tradition. On the table there were a few condiments including pickled okra (surprisingly spicy), pepper vinegar and Louisiana brand hot sauce. I was very impressed with this meal, and this unassuming place on the top ten list of places where I ate that year. For the other memorable spots that I visited check out this list that appeared in USA Today.
Mr. and Mrs. G’s isn’t the easiest place to find, so make sure you use a GPS if you’re a stranger to town. Please note that this restaurant is only open from Monday through Friday.
Mr. and Mrs. G’s Home Cooking
2222 South WW White Road
San Antonio, TX 78222-1919
Another soul food find was:
I think there are several of these restaurants, so I ate at the location on W.W. White Road which is now closed. Alas, this is a trip down memory lane, but I hope you’ll order these dishes at the other locations. I loved this place because it was a fish restaurant on one side of the building and a soul food place on the other . . . with no wall in between. It did initially confuse me, but I figured it out. Since it was still Friday, I stayed with fish, and I’m soooo glad that I did.
I began with a fried drum sandwich. Drum is not a fish that I can get in Denver, so I was eager to try it. I wanted to see if it was similar to the drum that I had at Mel’s Fish Shack in Los Angeles. I was disappointed. A great-tasting, hot fish sandwich with my choice of tartar sauce, ketchup or Louisiana brand hot sauce as a condiment. I also tried the trout fish taco. The taco was fine, but I really dug the tortilla which seemed to be handmade instead of being put together by a machine. I must say that the service was very attentive.
I had limited time in San Antonio, so I didn’t get to make it to other soul food joints in the area. I had heard about Mama Lee’s, but I just didn’t make it. So, don’t think these two places are the be-all-and-end-all of San Antonio soul food. This was just a taste!