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The Beard Foundation
I have to confess that I do not really follow the James Beard Foundation outside of the awards they announce annually. I used to get emails from the Foundation about various happenings, usually in New York City, but I rarely read them. A few weeks ago I was looking in my spam folder and realized why I hadn’t seen one in months. For some reason, my spam filter catches emails from the Beard Foundation, but not the dozen or two emails I get every day from people trying to sell me on cross-training, investment opportunities and real-estate seminars. Still, I didn’t do anything to stop the Beard Foundation emails from being filtered.
I do not mean this as a criticism of the awards or the Foundation. I would love to attend a dinner at the Beard House, and I’ve talked to a lot of chefs who’ve been honored to travel and cook a meal there. As long as I’ve been following the awards, they seem to recognize worthy folks, at least locally. They may not always pick my favorite of the local nominees, but I can’t recall a time I’ve felt the recipient was unworthy. The reason I don’t follow the awards, or the doings of the Foundation, generally, is the same reason I don’t do a lot of things: I just don’t have time.
This year, again, each of the chefs, restaurants and bars from New Orleans who’ve been nominated are worthy of the recognition. Every year New Orleans seems to be better represented in the Beard Foundation awards than a lot of cities with two or three times our population – and it’s because we have a disproportionate share of talent in the culinary arts for our size. This is a great food town and a great place to live, and that’s why so many people who come here for “a visit” end up staying for life.
All of which is by way of introduction, because I was reminded (thanks to the New Orleans arm of the Eater empire) that one of the best things I read last year was written by a fellow who now lives in New Orleans, and it is nominated for a Beard Foundation Award. The piece was published in GQ, and was titled “The Chef Who Saved My Life.” The author is Brett Martin.
I do not mean to disparage the other local nominee in the same category, Rien Fertel, who wrote an excellent piece about Broad Street and how it has changed since his youth. I like Fertel’s writing, and that piece, in particular, spoke to me because I have memories of Broad street as a kid, driving with my father to an auto mechanic’s shop, or to my grandmother’s house on Arts street. I remember eating at Fertel’s mom’s place, and Mandich, still I still have lunch at Crescent City Steaks now and again. A couple of years ago I moved to Broadmoor, and these days I find myself on Broad street a lot, often visiting the places Fertel wrote about in his piece.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about Martin’s piece that resonated with me. The story is, at least in part, about Martin’s journey from emotional distress to a more comfortable place, after the end of a long-term relationship. It’s centered around two meals he had with the chef Jaques Pepin, who in Martin’s telling is a cross between the Buddha and someone who very much loves to eat animals. (Which is more or less how I’d pictured Pepin after watching him on television for decades).
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and I encourage you to read the articles that led to both local authors being nominated. I also hope that you will not judge my work too harshly in comparison. Because then I’d feel pretty stupid for pointing the articles out to you in the first place.
The full list of the Beard Foundation Award nominees can be found here.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don’t drink too much and blame it on the Irish!
A final note: congratulations to Isaac Toups for both his Beard Foundation Award nomination and for being the best thing on television for the last couple of months.