Lately. And The James Beard Awards.

Lately. And The James Beard Awards.

13063365_10207658123784829_5233818555020551072_oJust a quick post to let you know what I’ve been up to. Yes, I realize I made a promise a while back to blog every Monday and lately that hasn’t happened. No excuses, but I blame growing pains. Back in January I said yes to a lot of things including moderating a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book and the Tom Tom Founder’s Festival, judging an Iron Chef competition, and judging a category for the 2016 James Beard Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards, a ceremony which I attended last Tuesday.

Yes, I got to attend the awards. A big career “get” to be sure. And it was, and wasn’t, the event I thought it would be. I actually sat down this morning to write an entire blog post about it, then wondered, why? It’s like when I started my blog a decade ago reviewing restaurants. After a while it got boring. I don’t want to evolve to reviewing award shows either. I am so fortunate to have been asked to judge this year which is how I got the invitation. Not sure what list I got on, but I hope I stay there. Not even really supposed to mention that I was a judge, at least not the category I reviewed. But who knows, maybe I’m not supposed to mention it at all and this will be a One and Done for me. The rules they gave me were kind of vague. I will say it was the experience of a lifetime and I would gladly do it again year after year until my brain can no longer comprehend words. It was that much fun.

I won’t go into a play by play with all the gory details. I’m not Michael Musto. But I will say this, it was about as much as you’d expect. An industry dinner with all the glitz and glamour JBF can muster. There was even a red carpet and swag bags. I saw famous food folks including Andrew Zimmern, Vivian Howard, Ming Tsai, Carla Hall, Tom Sietsema, Virginia Willis, and my hero, Francis Lam. That was cool. It was also cool to see folks I admire get a win, especially Tina Antolini from the SFA Gravy podcast. Still one of my podcasting benchmarks.

But it was weird for me. Halfway in I thought to myself, “Why are you putting yourself through this?” I’m not a fan of huge social events where small talk is a priority. To do it around folks you’ve admired for years? Nerve wracking. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But it was something else entirely. This felt like a work dinner, which it was. A chance for the INDUSTRY to step back and congratulate itself on its accomplishments. Nothing wrong with that. But I could see people hustling, making the rounds. The business that comes with these kinds of events. The endless networking, the passing of business cards. For me it was like Dorothy seeing behind the wizard’s curtain. I don’t know. Folks seemed so concerned with self-promotion rather than a celebration of their content. When Deborah Madison got up to accept her Lifetime Achievement Award for her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone no one could shut up for the 3 minutes it took to give her speech. They were too drunk. Or too busy talking about other things. It made me sad.

So maybe this post is a bit of a critique about JBF. Or maybe just award shows in general. Sure it’s fun to dress up and mingle. Okay, it is for most people. For me it entailed weeks of deciding what to wear, what to wear UNDER what I was wearing, what shoes would be comfortable but not too comfortable, and finally deciding when was the exact right moment to show up. Not too early. Not too late. It was anxiety-inducing truth be told. I’m also not so naiive I don’t know that food media is a business. You have to make money. You have to sell things. You have to promote. Again, I’m not so sure what I was expecting. But I wasn’t expecting folks to talk through someone’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Or to be made fun of because I had read or seen or heard every nominee in every category. Isn’t that our job? Part of being good at what we do? Maybe I am naiive. But I’m glad to be if that’s the case.

So yeah, not my favorite. But I do believe every experience has something to teach. I learned I don’t need medals or awards. Yeah, they bring folks to your site. They increase downloads certainly. But I don’t need them to create good content. I don’t need to chase them to hear good stories. Honestly, I just don’t have the energy to chase awards. In certain moments, usually late at night, I do worry I’m not spending enough time on promotion. Especially since the podcast is in its infancy. I’m not networking enough.

But maybe I don’t need to worry so much about promotion and awards. I never want to sacrifice content because I’m so busy trying to get sponsors, or medals, or trying to get more downloads. My only goal is to provide folks who do food work with a platform to tell their stories. That’s it. To tell good stories. From now on I’m just going to let the rest of that shit take care of itself.

Maybe by not chasing promotion and networking and focusing more on content I’ll actually end up blogging every Monday! There’s a thought. And if I’m never asked back because I blabbed to you or I wasn’t hip enough or for whatever the reason? I’ll have the memory of a kind of cool but kind of weird night where I spent most of the time happy for the winners but sort of wishing I was sitting in an Irish pub someplace in Manhattan. Begging the bartender, who’s probably Irish, to tell me his best stories.

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