What Kind of Writing Wins a Beard Award?

James-Beard-Medallion-300x255What I like about The James Beard awards, called “the Oscars of food writing,” is that I can find most of the journalism award-winning pieces online.

I want to soak up their brilliance. I also know I will be a little envious. That’s okay. Reading them gives me ideas for my own writing.

These essays will make you laugh, amaze you, make you nod in recognition, make you outraged — all emotions generated by skilled writers (and their editors). They are worth my time, and yours.

Just so you know, judges can only judge the entries. We don’t go out and look for work that might win. So if you don’t enter, you can’t win. (I am a book judge and a [Read more…]

9 James Beard Award-Winning Stories, and Why They Won

By now you’ve seen the announcements for the Oscars of food writing, the James Beard Awards for books, broadcast and journalism.

But have you read the pieces that won over the judges? I thought not.

I tracked down a handful of feature stories and explain why this is food writing at its finest. Here’s what it takes to win an award of this caliber, with links to writers so you can investigate who won as well:

1. Cooking, Recipes, or Instruction: Anna Thomas, Eating Well, for “The Soup for Life”

Here’s a sensuous look at how Thomas concocted recipes for green soups for her most recent cookbook, Love Soup. Her writing is full of action verbs (“a bitter wind was swatting down the last damp leaves”), evocative writing (“onions, slowly sizzling in the skillet, turned the color of [Read more…]

Should @RuthBourdain Win a Beard Nomination?

I asked former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl this very question last week, after a talk she gave at Stanford University.

Turns out that the James Beard awards, the so-called “Oscars of food writing,” launched a new humor category and nominated an anonymous tweeter called Ruth Bourdain.

This fictional character’s rain of raunchy tweets mash up Ruth Reichl and bad boy Anthony Bourdain (That’s Bourdain’s face and Reichl’s hair in the photo), often satirizing Reichl’s lyrical tweets in Bourdain’s sardonic tone. She mimics his humor, shock value and swearing.

There’s been lots of hand-wringing in the press about this nomination, because RuBo is anonymous. Also because the category is for a journalism award. I mean, are tweets journalism?

Reichl said she “loved the idea” of a humorous food writing category, and that Ruth Bourdain “wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago,” because of Twitter. Both Reichl and Bourdain are rooting for her to win. Reichl said she suspects RuthBourdain is a man. She’s dying to see whether this [Read more…]

Wrestling with Angels: How an Award-Winning Food Writer Crafts an Essay

You may not have heard of Natalie MacLean.

Yet she has won six Bert Greene Awards for Food Journalism, five awards from the Association of Food Journalists, four James Beard Awards, and two awards for best writer from Les Dames Escoffier and the Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Award.

At the 2003 World Food Media Awards, MacLean beat out 1,000 other writers to win the award. And don’t even get me started on how many awards her first book (Red, White, and Drunk All Over) won, including World’s Best Drink Writer from Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. (She’s working on a second book of more travel adventures, to be published in 2012.)

Natalie MacLean is the writer to beat. And chances are, you won’t be successful.

Here’s a little background: She studied English literature at Oxford University and earned a Masters in Business Administration in Ontario, Canada. While on maternity leave from a high-tech marketing position, Maclean started writing freelance articles about wine for magazines, and then sent them out as emails, the start of a wine newsletter. Today, her free e-newsletter has a circulation of more than 100,000, and she has written for more than 60 publications.

We met years ago when she endorsed my book, Will Write for Food, on her website. After she won the MFK Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames Escoffier, I called MacLean at home in Ottawa, Canada, to interview her about food writing technique:

Q: What is it like to write from Ottawa, not exactly known as the food and wine capital of North America? Do you travel all the time, or do you find that you can drink and write just fine from home, thank you?

A: Ottawa is terrific for the work ethic because nothing happens here. There are very few road tours by wine councils and vintners. When they do a cross-country tour, Ottawa is not on their list. I live a [Read more…]

A Lone Food Blogger Takes On the Big Blogs

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.

Alan Richman, the "Most Decorated Food Writer in America"

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 [Read more…]

Who Qualifies as a Beard Finalist, and What They Wrote

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 [Read more…]