Who Qualifies as a Beard Finalist, and What They Wrote

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james beard awardToday the James Beard Association announced its finalists for the annual awards. I’m particularly interested in the Journalism Awards category: who the authors are and what they wrote. 

The first thing I noticed is that most of the nominees are white men. They are full-time writers, reporters or editors at their publications. A few are freelance writers and long-time contributers to their publications. Some have already won awards. Some are book authors. Almost all seem based in the mid-west or the East Coast.

The few freelance writers nominated have a relationship with their publication. Translation: They didn’t write one piece for a magazine once.

Now, you can see the list of nominees on many other websites, but  so far I haven’t found any sites offering links to  the actual articles. It took me a couple of hours, and I didn’t find them all. But in service to you, who might wonder if you could ever write an award-winning article, here are 17 of the nominated pieces, and a little about who wrote them. ( Go here for a complete list.) 

I hope you’ll take  time and read some of these articles. One thing you’ll notice about them: they’re long. You might also wonder  what makes these pieces good enough to be nominated for a Beard award. Is it about their cleverness? Depth of researcher?  Depth of culinary knowledge? Unique point of view? Knowing how to cover a story? Finding a trendy topic?  

Read a few. I’d love to know your opinion. 

Magazine Feature Writing about Restaurants And/Or Chef

American Pie, GQ. Alan Richman, contributing editor and previous winner
Soul of a City, Saveur. Anya Von Bremzen, author and contributing editor to Travel & Leisure
The Last Chinese Barbecue, Gourmet. Frances Lam, contributing editor

Magazine Feature Writing With Recipes

The Wonders of Ham, Saveur. Dana Bowen, executive editor
The Beauty of the Beast, Men’s Health. Matt Goulding, food and nutrition editor

Magazine Feature Writing Without Recipes

Hillbilly Truffle, GQ. Alan Richman, contributing editor and previous winner
The Price of Tomatoes, Gourmet. Barry Estabrook, contributing editor
The Taste Makers, The New Yorker. Raffi Khatchadourian, staff writer

MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award

Le Petit Gourmet, GQ. Alan Richman, contributing editor and previous winner
Faith and Bacon, Saveur. By Francine Prose, author of bestselling fiction

Best Newspaper Feature Writing

The Real American Pie, Chicago Reader. Cliff Doerksen, freelancer (usually a movie critic)
The Charcuterie Underground, Chicago Reader. Mike Sula, staff writer

Newspaper Feature Writing about Restaurants and/or Chefs

How Not to Hire a Chef, Washington City Paper. Tim Carman, staff writer

Reporting on Health, Environment or Nutrition

Nachos for Lunch? Yes, Every Day, Chicago Tribune. Monica Eng, Tribune reporter
Throwing Out the Wheat, Slate. Daniel Engber, Slate senior editor
…Or Not to Bee, Eating Well. Rowan Jacobsen, author of  two books.

(Also: The only individual nominated for a food blog is Hank Shaw, also nominated last year, for Hunter, Gardener, Angler, Cook. He is a former newspaper reporter.) 


    • diannejacob says

      Yes! All the names of the article are links. For some reason they are not showing up in color on some people’s screens. Must speak to tech support.

  1. says

    what i notice with these awards, and iacp too, is that the kinds of pieces the judges love, are the kinds of pieces that we writers have fewer and fewer opportunities to do anymore- long, thoughtful stories with lots of context and color. there’s no space for them, no money, and just a handful of publications that still want them. the magazine and newspaper world has changed dramatically, but the criteria for these prizes has not.

    • diannejacob says

      This is a sad commentary, Laura. Maybe it’s why the same names come up over and over — because they have the luxury to write them.

  2. Lisa Waldschmidt says

    (the titles do not look like links but actually are.)

    I’m not a picky eater but I am a picky food reader. I read several of these articles. I started with the titles that intrigued me: American Pie, The Last Chinese BBQ, Le Petit Gourmet, How Not To Hire a Chef. Then read a spattering of others just to see the competition in some of the categories. I learned a little about what kind of food writing I like. My favorite of the bunch was The Last Chinese BBQ. ““You see how tired I am,” he said. “This is not what my children go to school for.” He just told the story of the immigrant in one sentence.”My eyes welled up and more importantly I wanted to lick the screen to get a taste of that pig.

    Some of the other articles were intriguing – Taste Makers, a topic I always was curious about or funny – Le Petit Gourmet, so well written I could picture the hummus restaurant and the kid as if I were at the next table. I considered some not to be interesting enough to even click on and some I did not finish. Why some were picked the choice was obvious, others not so cut and dry. Why would an article on pizza in the U.S. make it in? Because everyone wanted to read it to see if their favorite made it? Maybe so.

    • diannejacob says

      I remember reading that pizza article when it came out. Half of the fun of it is Alan Richman’s style.

  3. says

    Brava for taking the time to create these links! There’s a paragraph in Frances Lam’s story, The Last Chinese Barbecue, that has helped open up my own writing right now. It begins with “Back in the basement.” And Daniel Engber’s piece in Slate, Throwing Out the Wheat, is a wake-up call to our cyclical demonizing of certain food groups. Great stuff.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Greg. It’s such a pleasure to read them, a great learning experience — and for you, inspiration for your own writing! Nice.

  4. says

    I think these articles prove that good writing is good writing, in any context. Bringing scenes and people alive with felicitous descriptions and evocative language, making the reader feel as if s/he is right there. . . the best of these articles do just that; it seems to me, on some level, the food is incidental.

    • diannejacob says

      I know what you mean. It’s about great writing that puts the reader in the story. Food is the subject, and the subject could be anything.

  5. says

    Dianne – can you offer any info on how articles are nominated for the Beard Award? Do the publications put them up, are they nominated by Beard House folks, do journalists put them up themselves (as with AFJ)? If Beard House folks nominate them I wonder how widely they range in searching for articles about food?
    Thanks. Great post, as always. And Laura’s comment is spot on and very sad, for a food writer who wishes she had more opportunity to do this sort of writing.

    • diannejacob says

      Either you send in your own work, or the publication sends it in on your behalf. The Beard folks organize it all by category and send it out to the judges.

      So you’ve experienced this also, where you don’t get long assignments anymore? I guess the more established writers get the space and the opportunity. It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing.

  6. says

    Hey Dianne,

    Thanks for taking the time to put all these links together — I know how time-consuming and tedious that can be.

    I look forward to reading some of these entries. My initial hit, based solely on this list, is that’s an awful lot of men, meat, and pie.

    Where’s the diversity in gender, ethnicity, and subject matter?

    • diannejacob says

      Good question. But even if people of different color and sex applied, was their writing as good as Richman’s? He’s the man to beat.

  7. says

    Dianne, Thanks for compiling these! I watched the twitter updates with much enthusiasm when the nominees were announced. I think Frances Lam’s story of the BBQ is my favorite so far. You are right, very male-centric group, a curous fact, since so many wonderful food writers, both past and present, are women. I’ve always considered it a genre of writing where women had as strong a voice as men, was I wrong?! I look forward to reading through more on the list, so great to have them all right here, along with the links to the authors, themselves…no small task! It seems like a tough club to get into, but great inspiration to us all.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I’ve been pondering why it is mostly white men in a female dominated field. But then, it is symptomatic of the larger picture in the US. Sorry to get all feminist on y’all. Definitely a tough — and shrinking — pool to get into, but some have made it.

  8. says

    Thanks for posting this! When the awards came out, I saved the list and made it my goal to read all the nominated pieces for my own edification so this definitely makes it easier. So far, I’ve only read Lam’s and I absolutely love it. It is too bad to hear that few publications want this type of writing anymore.

    • diannejacob says

      I’m not sure they don’t want it anymore. Maybe only a privileged few get to write these pieces.

  9. says

    I just read American Pie and was glancing at the other stories and I noticed that in a lot of them, the author is somehow part of the story. Either they visited places like Richman, cooked at a restaurant (like Lam did), are talking about a memory of family meals (like Bowen in the ham piece) or about something they decided to do (like eating a whole pig).

  10. says

    To Paula above, I do think that being part of the story is part of show don’t tell in these cases. The best way to show –well, for me as a food writer, anyway–is to be eating the food, walking in field with a farmer, etc.

    As to the stories..shorter and shorter. I recently wrote a story that came in at 2,000–I kind of begged to have the whole thing printed, but they just couldn’t. I was not begging for more money (it was already a labor of love…) It was disappointing…

  11. says

    ho hum…i was in Paris and missed all these goodies!
    For about 5-7 years I volunteer shot the Beard Journalism Awards and it was always the best of the events-the most fun, the wittiest.
    I don’t remember it being so heavy on the white men winners in the 90’s but life was different then.
    True Alan Richman always won and Calvin Trillin almost always MC’d and they were both always terrific.
    c’est la vie
    so much to read here!

    • diannejacob says

      Yep, it will keep you busy for a while.

      Interesting that it was more fun than the book and chef awards, but then it probably depended on who was on the podium. How could you go wrong with Calvin Trillin?

      What does “volunteer shot” mean?


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