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On Friday, May 3, the James Beard Foundation will have its annual Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards. And this year, Food Network’s own Ted Allen has the honor of hosting the event, one of the biggest in the culinary world. Ted isn’t a stranger to the awards — last year he was the winner for best Media Personality/Host for Chopped, beating out Ina Garten and Sara Moulton. Chopped also won for best Television Program in a Studio or Fixed Location. With all his experience hosting, the JBF awards should be a piece of cake for Ted. But does he have anything to fear?
We caught up with Ted to chat about his hosting responsibilities, his view on the awards ceremony and what he thinks is the next big thing to look out for in the food world.
Are you doing anything to prepare for hosting the JBF awards?
Ted Allen: Just getting the penguin suit pressed! It’s a great evening, because all of America’s culinary royalty is there, and all we presenters have to do is show up, meet our heroes and pass out medals.
What are you looking forward to most? Is there a specific award category that you’re most interested in this year?
TA: I’m looking forward (hopefully) to seeing my friend Jon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern take home a Beard for Cleveland — OR seeing Stephanie Izard win the prize for Girl & the Goat in Chicago! Unfortunately, they’re up against each other, and three other brilliant chefs I don’t know personally (and whom I am not to be construed as rooting against).
What makes a good host? Any requirements?
TA: Well, it’s not exactly curing cancer, you know? You should have a little bit of a joke at the ready, because it’s a pretty long night. But not much more. Honestly, I think the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do at the awards was get the medal around the prodigious hairdo of Ruth Reichl.
How would you compare your hosting duties on Chopped with hosting the JBF awards?
TA: I don’t get champagne at Chopped. Also, my feet hurt. And the day is three times longer.
To those who might not be familiar with the James Beard Foundation awards, how would you describe the event?
TA: Quite simply, the Oscars of the restaurant business, and the cookbook and food media business. It’s the biggest prize in American food. A career highlight for anyone who gets one.
What do you think James Beard would say about cookbooks today?
TA: They’re more beautiful than ever. He might look askance at how many of them are published by entertainment figures. But I’m sure he’d be pleased that there still are so many of them published and purchased, even as the book business has been so besieged in recent years.
How was it winning the JBF award for Chopped last year for best host?
TA: It was, of course, a huge honor just to be mentioned in the same category as Sara Moulton and Ina Garten — two of my very favorite people in food television. I’m very happy that chefs like the show. It tells us that, even as we commit acts of manifest cruelty against them on a daily basis, they see our love and respect for them and the craft.
What do you think is the next big thing in food? It could be in media, restaurant trends, etc.?
TA: One of the luxuries of my peculiar place in all of this is that I don’t have to care about trends. So I don’t. Although, the explosion of new voices in the blogosphere has produced some exciting reading, a trend that will clearly continue (albeit one absent any clear way to get paid, unfortunately). Also, and you heard it here first, the next big thing is GOAT.