The James Beard Awards — often dubbed the Oscars of the restaurant world — are upon us, starting with the Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards in New York tomorrow night and followed by the Restaurant and Chef Awards in Chicago on May 2. OpenTable is excited to partner with the team at Lucky Peach on Winners Are Losers, their annual after-party for the journalism awards. (Spoiler alert: there will be bowling.)
Here, Lucky Peach editors Chris Ying and Peter Meehan share their insights on the nominees, ceremony, and more, from the chef they’re rooting for to the best writers who didn’t earn a nod.
What are the top trends you’re seeing among this year’s restaurant and chef nominees?
Peter Meehan: The main trend I notice is that I am old and—because I spend a lot of time with the under-six set—parochial and unaware of lots of cool-sounding places. The trend is: I need to get out more, and to cities I haven’t been in in years.
Chris Ying: I think it’s great that the day-to-day/executive chefs of big-name restaurants are being nominated for Rising Star. I suppose that was probably a stated decision and not a trend, but still nice to see. Otherwise, seems like the trend of “American Cooking” having a pretty narrow definition (when it comes to books) continues. I don’t know what other trends I’ve noticed among the nominees. Lots of caviar on menus these days, I think.
Anyone you’re especially excited to see on the list? Why?
Peter: Lots of people. The nomination of ours that I’m most excited about is the one for Joanna Avillez’ Smells the Same. I found her story really evocative, affecting, and beautifully told, but it’s not an obvious narrative for a food media crowd to latch on to. So I’m stoked to see it get the nod.
Chris: I’m excited that Kevin Pang’s movie was nominated—I know how much he put into that. I’m of course very excited for our team and thrilled to see acknowledgement for our new endeavors (the website, the Three Dishes column in the magazine). I’m personally pretty happy to have pulled Todd Kliman’s pork piece out of someone else’s reject pile and helped turn it into a nominated piece (I say this knowing full well that stories we rejected are also nominated this year; oops).
Chef-wise, Corey Lee and Jeremy Fox—so nice to see Jeremy Fox back on top. And Peter Chang, WTF—amazing! And of course I’m very proud of Handsome Rudy (Matt Rudofker) and my very near and dear friend/hero, Angela Dimayuga.
Anything surprising or unexpected?
Chris: Surprised that we’re still referring to sites as blogs!
Anything or anyone overlooked that you think should be recognized?
Peter: I liked Mimi Sheraton’s super aggressive Beard Foundation-slamming tweet after her book, 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die, didn’t get nominated. I like it because she’s feisty and she should be, and I like how passionate she is about her book.
I initially thought it was going to be some phoned-in compilation of obvious or extant information but after spending some time with it I see it as a pretty brilliant presentation of 90 years of accumulated knowledge. So I’ll second Mimi: she should’ve gotten asked to the dance!
Chris: In the spirit of what Peter said, I was pretty disappointed not to see any of Rachel Khong’s profiles for Lucky Peach nominated—I thought she really crushed it this year. I would wager that our book, 101 Easy Asian Recipes, has helped more people put dinner on the table than most books this year, but there doesn’t seem to be a category that specifically rewards that. And the Mission Chinese Food Cookbook! I don’t know, it seemed like a pretty damn good book both from a professional point of view and as a book about American cooking. But I wrote it, so I’m biased.
What about media? What’s going on in the storytelling world that people are getting excited about now and why?
Peter: New ideas about food & storytelling? I got none. I dig the status quo all the way. Listicles for all.
Chris: I dunno—podcasts? Podcasts. I like stories a lot; readers like to know where to eat and what to cook. Somewhere between those things is the sweet spot.
What are your top 3 predictions for the awards ceremony?
Peter: I’m a terrible handicapper. Here’s what I know: I think it’s wild how much less the James Beard Foundation cares about the media awards than the chef awards given that James Beard was a writer and author. But instead of getting mad about that, I throw an after party for the awards about it.
Chris: 1) I will be underdressed; 2) The Food Lab will win; 3) Peter will bring a secret stash of Underberg.
What’s in store for the future of the Beard Awards? What does the evolution look like?
Chris: In the four or five years since I’ve been coming/paying close attention to the awards, it seems like they’ve loosened their collars a bit. Maybe there’s more to come. Perhaps they’ll be completely shirtless soon.
Who are you super excited to party with at the Winners are Losers event?
Peter: I’m excited to hang with my brother, Jim, who is doing cocktails. And I’m stoked that Jesper Eklow and Alison Busch are DJing. They are great people from great bands (Endless Boogie and Call of the Wild, respectively) whose ears I trust. Can’t wait to scribble down the names of all the records they play so I can go try to find them the next day.
Chris: Our NYC staff. I dunno. I’m very awkward at parties.