The James Beard Foundation 2015 Book, Broadcast and Journalism (Cookbook) Award winners have been announced. The Cookbook of the Year award went to Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling (University of Texas Press)!
As you may know, Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards are bestowed separately from Restaurant/Chef awards. The media award gala took place in New York April 24th (See the list of all winners here). The restaurant and chef awards will take place in Chicago on Monday, May 4th. Chicago is honored to have been chosen as the first city outside of New York for the restaurant/chef award dinner.
BTW, you can sign up to be notified on a live stream as the May 4th awards are given here. http://www.jamesbeard.org/awards
2015 was the third time I was asked to judge cookbooks and it’s always exciting but also a lot of work. I believe there are four judges in each category but it’s all very confidential, so I’m not certain. I’d like to tell you a bit about the process.
A judge is given a category and subsequently receives upwards of 50 cookbooks that have been submitted to the foundation for consideration.
The judge’s work begins with separating the wheat from the chaff (tossing books over my shoulder and thinking OMG, why would anyone think this should be considered?). After rejecting perhaps 25 books, the real analysis begins. As a judge considers the content, the structure, the message (does it have a voice?), the eye appeal, etc., more books drop out and if there’s a question in my mind, I’ll test a recipe before casting it aside. (The Foundation suggests testing from a judge’s final five but I normally test from seven to ten books).
I’ve taken to having small dinner parties that includes test recipes. My guests know that some recipes are test and are encouraged to comment. However, they don’t know my assigned category or from which books the recipes have been taken.
In the end, I ask myself if the book has staying power and if it is truly JBF award-worthy. I review my notes as I address the judging sheets. Comparing and evaluating occasionally resulted in mental merry-go-round but it also stimulated the need to parse it all. The judging sheets containing object and subjective sections are submitted with fingers crossed, hoping that those you considered worthy actually are. It’s an honor to be part of the process.
I also reflect on 2006 and 2007 when David Leite and I were the winners of Internet Website for Food and Website Focusing on Food, Beverage, Restaurant or Nutrition medallions respectively for Leite’s Culinaria. Thankful that the judges in those years gave careful consideration to all.