James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards — A Menu in Three Acts

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On Monday evening, more than 170 attendees gathered in a glass-enclosed room overlooking Manhattan for the third annual James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards dinner, co-hosted by Good Housekeeping and part of the conference, “The Paradox of Appetite: Hungering for Change.” Honors went to five food visionaries who have taken leaps for global food justice through government, nonprofit, and education work.

Leadership award winners included Hal Hamilton, founder of Sustainable Food Lab; Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU; Cynthia Hayes, founder of the Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network; Ricardo Salvador, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists; and Gus Schumacher, executive vice chairman of Wholesome Wave. Each honoree has proven through his or her work that transformation can and will occur in our food system.

I expected nothing but the best food from a JBF dinner, but the menu design could only have been the brainchild of a JBF award-winning chef. Maria Hines, chef at Tilth, Golden Beetle and Agrodolce, created “a menu in three acts,” in order to “evoke and inspire action for change in regards to our food system.” Each of the three courses was dedicated to 2013 legislation that, if approved, will encourage a fairer food system. Below, find Hines’ menu with descriptions of each course.

First Course – Loki Fishing Vessel’s Applewood-Smoked Sockeye Salmon with Compressed Apple, Grape, Crème Fraîche and Holmquist Hazelnut
The appetizer was designed around the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Rep. Peter Fazio. The fisherman, Pete Knutson, is an anthropology professor, an activist, and an advocate for labeling of genetically engineered fish.

Second Course – Skagit River Ranch Grassfed 100% Organic Wagyu Beef Tenderloin with Northwest-Foraged Mushroom, Heirloom Bean, Oven-Roasted Tomato and Truffle Butter
With the Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act in mind, Hines designed the entrée “to make me think of my rancher” at Skagit River Ranch. The Washington-based family farm is dedicated to raising their cattle sustainably. They know the makeup of the soil and grow three grasses for their cows to feed on. The beef came straight from the farm to Hines’ back door four days before the dinner.

Third Course – Fresh Breeze Dairy Fromage Blanc Cheesecake with High Elevation Huckleberry, Bee Pollen, Honeycomb and Creamed Honey
Hines dedicated the dessert to one of agriculture’s most precious but depleted resources: honeybees. If approved, the Save America’s Pollinator Act, Introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, will help save our threatened bee population by addressing colony collapse disorder.

Surrounded by some of food’s most influential change makers, Hines demonstrated the vital role that chefs play in fostering a sustainable food system. “As chefs, we have consumer trust. We have a platform and a public standpoint, and it’s our responsibility to make the right choices.”