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My Olympic Medal

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

We did it. The James Beard Foundation named Hunter Angler Gardener Cook as the Best Individual Blog for 2013! Turns out third time was the charm; I’d been nominated twice before, in 2009 and 2010. And even though only three entries are nominated each year — so in athletic terms you’ve “podiumed,” earning at least a bronze medal — I’d been really anxious about losing a third time. It’s no fun sitting in that room and hearing someone else’s name announced.

I didn’t want to become the Susan Lucci of the Beard Awards even though intellectually, I know I had no right to think that way: Three nominations without a win is not uncommon. Chef Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City has been nominated seven times without a win, as has Sara Moulton, who sat at our table. But still.

beard logoI almost didn’t attend at all. It costs a lot of money to fly to New York City, stay in a hotel and eat the way you really oughta when I am in town for a major food event. Wasn’t sure it would be worth it. But then I saw that a host of other wild food folks also made the cut: Tama Matsuoka and Chef Eddy LeRoux for their Foraged Flavor; Jesse Griffiths for his Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish; Steven Rinella for his TV show Meateater; Kirk Lombard for his webcast The Curious Adventures of Kirk Lombard. Maybe there was something in the air this year at the Beards? Could this be the Night of the Hunter? So I decided to go.

Holly and I dolled ourselves up and walked into Gotham Hall, an old bank building with a gigantic rotunda. It was a huge difference from the 2010 Beards, which, while nice, was more akin to a typical journalism awards venue — think convention center, not black tie gala. This time, while it wasn’t a black tie affair, it was plenty swank-tastic all the same. Lots of food celebrities milling around, lots of “Hey, I’ve seen her on TV” moments. And the drinks were flowing.

We were seated with, as I’d mentioned, Sara Moulton, Sky Dylan-Robbins of the New Yorker, Atlanta Chef Kevin Gillespie (of Top Chef fame), and a nice guy named John Gonzalez… who, it turns out, has won 13 Emmy Awards. Uh, yeah. Crazy table, right? I was so nervous I could barely eat or drink. I managed to get down a beer, but the parade of food and booze they put in front of use was largely lost on me; this was a shame, because much of the meal was cooked by fellow Californians from San Diego.

As the awards began to roll in, it began to look like a massacre for my friends. Tama and Eddy lost, then Kirk, then Steve. Ugh. Bad night for wild food. At least other friends were winning, like Dan and Mirra from Perennial Plate, Diane Morgan for her book Roots and Sandor Katz for The Art of Fermentation. Finally, I was the last wild food guy standing.

Everything started to get blurry when Ted Allen (from Food Network’s Chopped) announced the nominees for Best Individual Food Blog: Alder Yarrow from Vinography, Aran Goyoaga from Cannelle et Vanille, and me. My heart stopped when he announced my name. I might have shouted like a hockey player scoring a hat trick… OK, I know I did.

Photo by John Gonzalez

Photo by John Gonzalez

I felt like I was levitating as I went to the stage, and Ted went to put the James Beard medal around my neck. That’s when it hit me: This was my Olympic medal. For many years I was a distance runner, and a pretty good one, too. Every morning I’d wake up with dreams of making the Olympic Trials, and then somehow overcoming the odds to earn a spot on the team. It was a nice dream, but my body broke before I could fully realize it. I’d moved on.

But every Olympics I watch in rapt attention. I still tear up a bit when I see American runners do well. Wearing the Beard medal around my neck, it felt like this was as close as I’d ever get to standing on that podium. And while the Beards are not the Olympics, Olympians don’t get to talk on the podium. I did.

I dedicated my award first and foremost to Holly — my photographer, hunting partner and most of all, my best friend.

But I also dedicated it to Tama Matsuoka and Eddy LeRoux, to Jesse Griffiths and Kirk Lombard and Steven Rinella — and to all the hunters, anglers, foragers and lovers of wild food out there. To you.

Without you Hunter Angler Gardener Cook would not exist. You, HAGC Nation, make me strong, and for that I am eternally grateful. This one’s for all of us!

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