by CIA student Leah
My professor chirped as she dangled this medal from her between her fingers. Its rich purple ribbon seemed out of place and almost too common for its other half, the medal it carried.
She went on to explain something or other about the medal or to tell a charming anecdote about the day she received it, but I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the same room as a James Beard Award medal.
I had the incredible pleasure and honor of volunteering at the 2013 James Beard Awards this spring as a cook assistant to a pair of chefs from Louisiana who were preparing a dish for the cocktail reception. I spent a good portion of my day in the underbelly of the Lincoln Center deep frying alligator chunks in a tabletop fryer. When I did emerge into the light, I was completely star struck by the crowd of people—mostly because they were all wearing stunning clothes, but secondly because they were each wickedly talented in their own expertise of the food industry. I think the only people who weren’t there were the farmers of the food industry. But maybe they were too busy eating fried alligator or waiting in line for another cocktail and if so, I can’t think of anyone more deserving.
I have been a little googly eyed and goose bumpy since I left that ceremony at the sheer realization of the potential for accomplishment encompassed in this industry. And then tonight, to hold one of those medals in my hand was a feeling that I can only describe as bigger than myself. I do my best to remain focused on the meaning assigned to objects and not get caught up the finer details of particular objects. In the case of a James Beard Medal, I believe that the meaning in synonymous with the object. The physical medal and its significance in food history are undeniably intertwined. The history, the prestige, the honor that her medal represented brought hot tears to the corners of my eyes as I was humbled and confused---how did I get here and where did I go right?