May 122010
 

Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook got a double dip of validation this year: his blog was a finalist for the 2010 best food blog award from both the James Beard Foundation (second year in a row) and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).

What’s interesting is that the other finalists were not other individual bloggers, but compilation food blogs on large websites. Compilation blogs are defined by the number of people who write for them: usually the editor writes posts, as do staff writers for the website where the blog appears, and then there are freelance contributors who get paid per post.

For the IACP award, the other two finalists were blogs from alternative weekly newspapers: the SF Foodie blog of San Francisco Weekly; and Eating Our Words, the food blog of sister paper Houston Press. The SF blog includes posts from award-wining restaurant reviewer Jonathan Kauffman. The Houston blog includes posts from award-winning restaurant reviewer and author Robb Walsh.

And wouldn’t you know it? Hank won the IACP award, beating out these two compilation blogs, including content from two distringuished writers.

Then it was on to the Beard awards, where Hank competed with Serious Eats and Grub Street New York. Again, both are compilation blogs that are part of large websites. Serious Eats has a staff of seven plus three interns. A large stable of paid contributors includes Mario Batali. Grub Street has a smaller staff: an editor, a senior editor, and an assistant editor. The staff  contributes content and the blog pays for freelance posts. Serious Eats won the Beard award.

Like other bloggers, Hank writes all his own material. A former commercial fisherman, line cook, and newspaperman, he’s a one-man show, writing about hunting, fishing, gardening, and cooking.

So the question comes up: Is it fair for an individual blogger to compete with compilation blogs? Should there be one category for individual blogs and another for compilation blogs? Or will the best writing triumph, regardless of how the blog is structured or staffed?

I’m for two categories. I was on the executive committee of IACP the year we put compilation cookbooks (best recipes compiled by a magazine) into their own category. Now the compilations compete with other compilation books, rather than with individual authors.

Now tell me what you think.

(Thanks to Amy Sherman, who started a Twitter war on this subject, for bringing it up.)

Photo by Elise Bauer, used with permission.

Mar 252010
 

richman_240You might have read in my last post on James Beard nominees that Alan Richman, a contributing writer for GQ magazine since 1986, received three nomations.

That’s nothing. His bio on GQ calls him “the most decorated food writer in America.” He has already won 14 James Beard awards, with 29 nominations overall. A congratulatory post from the GQ editors compared him to Meryl Streep, who has won twice, with  16 nominations.

Richman, who started his writing career as a sports reporter in Philadelphia, eats in restaurants as his main job. In one year he might dine in Bangkok; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Paris; Beijing; Los Angeles; and New Haven, Connecticut.

He’s a master of the long form, but it must be relative. In an interview with Chow, Richman bemoans its demise.”We’re starting to lose something by stories Continue reading »

Jul 042009
 

While reading Garret McCord’s post on writing a book review, I thought about the criteria I apply while judging a book for the James Beard awards or for the International Association of Culinary Professional’s (IACP’s) annual cookbook awards. I’ve judged books for years, and the  system between these two groups is  different.

james-beard-awardJames Beard is a little more fluid than IACP.  The committee sometimes creates new categories if necessary. One year a photo book was the overall winner. Judges look at the publication as a whole, including the graphic and typographical presentation, the research, the writing style, and the reliability, but there aren’t a ton of guidelines.

I emailed Kathleen Purvis, head of the Charlotte Observer’s food section, who handles the awards, and asked her what constitutes the most important criteria. She hesitated to say. “You should write the best book you can, not the one you think will please judges,” she suggested I advise. “In my years of working with books,” she continued, ” the books that come from the heart, the ones where you can tell the writer has something he or she really, really wants to share, are the ones that always stand out. Passion shows. Look at a Julia or a James Beard or a Laurie Colwin or a Richard Saxe and that’s what stands out every time: One person’s voice, one person’s mission to share something.”

Now that’s good news, because it’s the nature of blogging: your thoughts on a subject that obsesses and delights you.

imagesIACP, on the other hand, uses written guidelines to help judges decide. I looked up the criteria from the last time I judged, a few years ago. It might have changed, but here’s what I have for writing cookbooks: Is the choice of subject meaningful? Is the perspective or point of view noteworthy, original or distinctive? Is the research thorough and accurate? Is the information presented in a way that is easy to follow? Is the writing clear and direct? Is the writing voice distinctive? Are the ingredients listed in the order in which they are used? Does the recipe tell you everyting you need to know to make the recipe successfully? Are there hints about timing, variations, do-ahead steps or substitutions? If there are headnotes and tips, do they enhance the recipes? Does the book speak meaningfully to its intended audience? Does the book deliver what it promises?

There’s another section on judging design, which authors don’t control. Then overall: Consider the quality of the book in comparison to other books of its type. Does it accomplish its goals? Does it have major flaws? Would you buy the book for your own library or recommend it to friends? Does it make a major contribution to the subject?

Now of course you’re not going to write a book simply to win an award, because that’s not a sustainable proposition. Writing a book is too hard. But the next time you come up with an idea, apply this criteria and see if it stands up. For more on what constitutes a good idea for a book, see this piece on my website.