Monday, June 17, 2024

James Beard awards: two Australian cookbook authors win prizes in ‘the Oscars of food’

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Two Australian cookbook authors have won prizes in this year’s James Beard Foundation awards, dubbed the “Oscars” of the food world.

The awards are among the most prestigious culinary prizes based in the United States and recognise writers, illustrators and designers in food publishing, broadcasting and journalism around the world, as well as top chefs and restaurants in the US.

Sydney chef and restaurateur Josh Niland won best restaurant and professional cookbook for Fish Butchery: Mastering the Catch, Cut and Craft at the 8 June award ceremony in Chicago.

Hetty Lui McKinnon, a Chinese Australian recipe developer and food writer now based in New York, claimed the top prize in the vegetable-focused cooking category for her fifth cookbook, Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds.

Salmon portions from the Niland’s third book, Fish Butchery. Photograph: Rob Palmer, courtesy of The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant Books)

Fish Butchery is Niland’s third tome and continues his fin-to-gill approach to preparing fish and seafood, including advanced cooking techniques such as dry-ageing fish, cooking with fish offal and preparing tuna “salami”.

Niland said he was in the middle of Sunday lunch service at his Paddington restaurant Saint Peter when he learned of his win via email. “I scrolled through it, and thought: ‘Oh very good.’”

He said he stepped away from the stoves for a moment and quietly celebrated at the back of the restaurant with a “few little fist pumps”.

“You don’t ever expect to win those particular awards because they carry such significance in the US,” said Niland, who pipped fellow Australian chef Mat Lindsay and food writer Pat Nourse, nominated in the same category for their book Ester: Australian Cooking.

“I was very excited to see Ester and Hetty and myself,” Niland says. “There are so many authors coming through so it’s nice to see Australia be a bit of a presence.”

This year’s medallion is Niland’s third James Beard award. In 2020 he became the first Australian author to take home the coveted book of the year award for his debut title, The Whole Fish Cookbook, which also won the restaurant and professional cookbook category that year.

McKinnon’s win marks her first James Beard award. “Feeling overwhelmed but remembering to own this moment, to allow myself to feel worthy and to be proud of this achievement,” she wrote on Instagram after the ceremony accompanied by a photo of her wearing her medallion.

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Hetty Lui McKinnon arrives on stage in Chicago on 8 June to pick up a James Beard award for her cookbook Tenderheart. Photograph: Jeff Schear/Getty Images for James Beard Foundation

Tenderheart focuses on vegetable-based recipes but is also a meditation on the death of McKinnon’s father and how family has shaped her approach to food and cooking.

“Thank you to my dad whose tenderness and big joyous energy flows through this book. I felt so happy writing this book because he felt close. I wore his shirt last night to keep him close,” McKinnon wrote.

“Thank you also to my mum, my fearless leader in the kitchen and in life.”

Hetty Lui McKinnon as a child with her late father, Wai Keung Lui, and McKinnon in recent times. Composite: Hetty Lui McKinnon/Shirley Cai

Another Australian was honoured at Sunday’s awards ceremony when The World Central Kitchen Cookbook scooped the prize for best international cookbook. Accepting the award, co-author Sam Chapple-Sokol paid tribute to Zomi Frankcom, the Australian aid worker who contributed to the book and was one of seven World Central Kitchen colleagues killed in an Israeli strike on their convoy while delivering food aid to Gaza.

Chapple-Sokol described Frankcom as “one of the most empathetic people to work for our organisation … I’ll always think of Zomi when I read this book.”

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