The James Beard Awards, the putative Oscars of the food world, are being held next Monday in New York City. We rounded up some of the Chicago nominees and asked them to share with us their thoughts on the awards, their work, and how they'll celebrate if they win. We'll be running their answers throughout the week.
Up now: Mike Sula, food columnist at The Reader, who was nominated for Best Multimedia Food Journalism for his epic undertaking The Whole Hog Project, aided and abetted with intriguing and moving video documentary by Mike Gebert of Sky Full of Bacon. We got in touch with Sula via email to get his take on the whole shebang.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about your nomination?
This one goes up to eleven. The attention it brings to the mulefoots [the breed of pig highlighted in the Whole Hog Project] is gratifying, especially since the primary breeder in South Dakota suffered a bad barn fire last winter that significantly handicapped her work. Their numbers are coming back—particularly in Wisconsin—but they need all the help they can get. Besides that, my name is going to be uttered over a PA system in the same breath as Ruth Reichl's which I find utterly surreal and terrifying
What are you looking forward to about this year's awards ceremony?
This is my maiden voyage to the Beards. I don't much know what to expect, beyond what I've been told by vets, some of it conflicting. I might just follow Steve Dolinsky around and do exactly what he does, since he's been nominated just about every year since he was 13. It has been a ridiculously long time since I've been back to NYC so I'm excited and daunted by all the eating I need to cram into a 48 hour period. My pal Rob is helping me map out a minute-to-minute itinerary.
Who do you think is your biggest competition in your category?
Ms. Reichl and the full might of Gourmet magazine have the other two nominations in our category. Those entries are both seamless, multilayered, and beautiful and I can't see how one of them won't win. If we won it would be sort of a Slumdog scenario. I'd fully expect to be arrested and interrogated.
If you do win, how are you going to celebrate?
I'd call Wisconsin to thank the farmers who raised the mulefoots for us and ask them to give the herd some extra chicken eggs for me. I'd thank my boss for supporting and sustaining The Whole Hog Project through two very difficult years in the life of the Reader. I'd give Paul Kahan a big wet kiss for organizing the climatic mulefoot dinner at Blackbird in the midst of opening The Publican. Then I'd get a tattoo of our original pig Dee Dee on my neck, captioned “My Boo.”
Do you think there's anyone (in Chicago or elsewhere) who deserves recognition for their culinary efforts, who the Beards haven't yet acknowledged?
Tons of people. But Mike Gebert's Sky Full of Bacon mulefoot vidcasts make up a third of our entry and he isn't named in the nomination. I can understand why though. He and James Beard hated each other. Something about Beard not giving him credit for ghostwriting Fowl and Game Cookery back in the 40s. Came to blows. No one wants to talk about it anymore.