Journey of a James Beard Leadership Awardee

by Karen Washington

So folks, this is my second blog post and the burning question that most people are asking me is “How does it feel to be the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Leadership award?” Honestly, it feels great. What else were you expecting me to say? I’m not the kind who gets all excited over awards; but having my children and well-wishers with me that night made it so good.

I’ll start from the beginning. It was just after this year’s Kellogg Conference in Detroit. I was riding on the bus headed back to the airport when the phone rang. The person on the other end asked to speak to Karen Washington.  She said; “I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive the 2014 James Beard Leadership award”, I asked her to repeat it again due to traffic congestion, so she did and when I heard it again all I wanted to do was scream, but before I could catch my breath to yell out loud, she said there’s one stipulation, you can’t tell a soul until we make a big press announcement in the months ahead. “Say What!!” I just received one of the biggest news of my life and I can’t share it with anyone. So I sat on the bus seat full of emotion that I had to let it out but where, who. I couldn’t possibly share it with the person next to me, tried calling my children, it went straight to voicemail (it figures). Then I thought there is one person I can share this with and that is with my farming partner Jane Hodge. So I called Jane, so excited only to realize that she was in the middle of celebrating her goodbye party at Just Food. (Oops I was supposed to be there). So for one month I found myself walking around with this silly grin on my face, trying to hide my emotions, but to no avail. (Had to tell my children).

Soon afterwards; came the press release, followed by interviews, photos, more interviews, more photos, well-wishers and more congratulations. Along the way I made some new friends, meet incredible people, and came across a few pretentious people.  I felt the New York Times article (September 19, 2014) was genuine thanks to Dan Shaw the reporter and Chester Higgins the photographer. (My new BFF’s).

There were those who wanted to know if there was any monetary gift assosciated with the award, no money but I got a chance to be with my friends Navina and Ben, and stood toe to toe with Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. I was glad that my Senator Gustavo Rivera was the one who presented me with the award. (Also glad he won the primary before agreeing to make the presentation).  

Through it all I have remained gracious and humbled. You see, as I sat down looking at that $1000 plate dinner in my honor, I could not help but think about my people and community. I love my community, my people, the Bronx. I was so proud to acknowledge that I live in da Bronx.

The event ended with Sam Kass (the White House chef) stopping by to congratulate me and inviting me and my family to the White House for a meal. How cool is that!! I want to thank all the people who nominated me for this award, yes you have to be nominated by your peers. I was also told that because of this award my life will be changing, I only hope it changes in a way that makes a difference in other people’s lives.

Signing off,

Karen Washington,

2014 James Beard Leadership awardee

Sounds real cool to me