3 years ago, I bought myself a ticket to the James Beard awards. I felt out of place, out of my league and couldn't believe I, Ellen, this line-cook-turned-apron-person would even be allowed to attend one of these events. But regardless, I got myself a great dress, did my hair, gave myself a pep talk and headed out to Chicago to explore this magical event.
If you've never heard of the James Beard awards, it's sort of like the Grammy's of the culinary world. The cream of the crop of chef land goes there and it is literally one of the coolest things to see all your heroes in the same place.
I remember walking into the grand Lyric Opera House of Chicago and sitting towards the back row. I couldn't find my friends so I sat there alone and contemplated why or how I should even be here.
Then the event started and as the videos were rolling and people were being presented, I spotted our red ampersand. It was bright and in the sea of images, it stuck out to me like a lighthouse and I felt more at home immediately. As I sat there continuing to watch the awards, so many incredible apron squad members jumped up on stage and won awards, got nominated or presented them and I felt this huge heap of excitement for all of them. It was like my best friends were all winning awards and we had all been on this long crazy path to get there.
There's this deeply rooted sense of collaboration in the kitchen that is literally like nothing I've ever seen before. You all work together to get dishes out, there's team work on pretty much every level, including down to choosing the uniforms people wear. So when you see your people up on the stage receiving this award acknowledging that they have in fact worked their ass off, are talented as hell and are doing their part to keep pushing the envelope in the food world, you feel a sense of pride like family just won that award.
To top it off, when the winners are on the Apron Squad, it's like your team won the Super Bowl, were all connected via the kitchen and this case via these aprons. Because you make a very clear choice when choosing h&b. Its not just a commodity uniform, it's about something so much bigger than that, a sense of dignity and pride in the kitchen for your team... for that unity when you're going down in flames mid service and for the nights when everything is flying out flawlessly. You're in it together everyday and we as the Apron Squad are right there with you.
The heart and soul is made up of the dreams of all of our fellow kitchen comrades and each one of us is on this journey. Whether its a chef who has to keep his staff on track and pushing or the line cook that dreams of being moved to the fish station. The hustle is real to get there and being at these awards is like a beacon to strive towards.
You get up there because you are the best at what you do and you crawled, cooked, wiggled your way up to that seat at the table and now you gotta own it!
Fast forward to this last trip.
I was extra excited about it because Jeni of Jeni's ice cream aka my sister from another mister was my date for the event.
We both flew in on Sunday and met up at our Airbnb before heading to what would be a train of pre-Beard Award events.
The awards themselves were set to be amazing considering Jesse Tyler Ferguson would be hosting them. Not only is he one of the most genuinely kind and friendly people, he is funny as hell and I love him more than I love pizza on a Friday night. :)
Sunday was a whirlwind of dinner at Monteverde with long time apron squad member Jonathan Waxman and his right hand lady who I love to pieces Jen Davidson. What we didn't know is that the next day Sarah the chef and co-owner of Monteverde would win the award for best chef mid-west!
Anyway, it was so fun and we even got to park ourselves at Missy Robbins table before JW arrived.