You read that right. I can barely believe that I got to type that. Last Friday in New York, in front of about 600 people, The Pho Cookbook was awarded one of the culinary world’s highest accolades, a James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence.
Who is that man on the medal? The late James Beard was a great champion of American food, not just in a monolithic sense but also in a diverse manner. He was opinionated and curious. He appreciated thoughtful home cooking as much as fine restaurant fare. My cookbook collection includes many works by Beard.
The Beard Foundation works to spotlight American food culture and earlier this year, it announced an America’s Classics Award to Dong Phuong, a Vietnamese bakery and restaurant in New Orleans. I was so cheered by the recognition of Viet food as a part of the mainstream American table.
In 2007, I was nominated for a Beard award for Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and didn’t think that The Pho Cookbook, a slim volume focused on one dish, would merit Beard attention. But it did, in the single subject category of food books, and there were many friends and colleagues, including my editor Kelly Snowden, in the room last Friday to support the book and me.
This year’s Beard nomination was my seventh cookbook award nomination (the other five came from the International Association of Culinary Professionals). I’d not won until this year and didn’t expect to really win (despite encouragement from my parents, who lit a candle in church for me last Thursday, and friends like cookbook author extraordinaire Grace Young). But I’d been thinking in fragmented terms about what it would mean if I did win someday. I didn’t rehearse an acceptance speech but these words came out of my mouth:
Thanks to Scott Hocker, a long-time friend and fellow nominee, for the recording and subsequent tweet. Someone dubbed it the “Un-Pho-Gettable” speech.
But I knew that I was part of something bigger as soon as I arrived at the event’s pre-dinner reception. The room was packed with a rainbow of people. For many years, food media has been monochromatic but recently, that’s changed with participation not only from people of color but also from colorful people who are doing interesting, impactful work.
I was thrilled to be in the company of so many sheroes, heroes, friends, colleagues and comrades — including Maria Godoy (NPR’s the Salt), Shane Mitchell, Sean Sherman (The Sioux Chef), Osayi Endolyn (Gravy) and Lisa Donovan. All nominees are winners because getting into the final running for a Beard award reflects outstanding work. There were about 1,300 entries for the media awards this year.
I’m feeling extremely blessed and proud. Just today, @ktkinoakland instagramed a bowl of homemade pho in honor of my Beard Award. The JBA medal is amazing but I also consider people using and loving the Pho book as a major win. It’s a Nguyen-win situation. 😉
Thanks for being part of my pho-nomenal journey!