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SimonThibault.com

Journalist. Food Writer. Producer.

A very Beard-y moment

In 2004,  someone took me to a little Vietnamese restaurant and told me, "You need to try phô." I soon became a regular customer at this restaurant. Sundays were days meant for phô. 

About a year later, that restaurant closed, due to an unfortunate fire. I was also, unfortunately, unemployed around that time.  My desire for phô, was still there.  So I went to my local library and looked up books on Vietnamese food. One of the most recent was a book by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, called Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet*.  The book didn't just look at the food of Vietnam, but also the neighbouring countries and the people who lived therein. And within those people and places, the ingredients, the traditions, the raison d'être for these various foodways.  I had never seen a cookbook like this. 

In the middle of the book was a recipe for that luscious phô. Many trips were made to asian grocers, replenishing my stock of cinnamon and star anise, along with trips to the farmers market, with plastic bags of beef bones straining between my fingers. But I didn't care. Soon my house would smell of phô. 

There were many other dishes made from that book. At one point, a very kind and patient recipe guinea pig/boyfriend would ask, "Can we have something made without fish sauce?".  Soon there were many other books, filling the small shelf in my small apartment kitchen. I started scouring second hand bookstores for more cookbooks. My kitchen cupboards started to bulge with books, appliances, ingredients. My mother once opened my fridge and asked me, "Do you really need four different kinds of soy sauce?" 

Yes. Yes I do.

I started to write about food. A story or two,  here and there for local publications, along with all kinds of other stories. My desire for writing and telling stories was as deep and involved as that thirst for phô was only a few years ago.  

I decided to go back to school, after a few years of working in the food industry as a server and bartender.  I went to journalism school, and while I was there, decided to focus on food. Not as a critic - that is an entirely different beast, and one that I do not feel I have the proper background or experience for - but as someone who wanted to tell the stories of the people who produced the food that was set on tables.  Farmers, producers, chefs, brewers, roasters, anyone and everyone who touched what was on your plate.

Since 2010, I have been doing just that. I have been able to tell those stories on local, regional, national, and international scales.  I have had the opportunity to interview people I admire in all sorts of fields. I've even had fanboy moments, interviewing authors, filmmakers, and journalists whose work I have followed for years.  

And then last summer, all this work that I have been doing became recognised by a group of people I truly admired. I got asked to be a judge for the 2015 James Beard Awards. At first I honestly thought it was a joke. Someone was playing a mean trick. But no, it was real. 

And so this week, I am on my way to New York City to attend the James Beard Awards. I will be at the same table as the people whose work I have followed, admired, and shared with so many people.  I still find myself pinching myself, saying, "Am I really doing this?"

The answer is yes.

Yes, I will be eating four meals a day while I walk the streets of Manhattan. Yes, I will be highly caffeinated.  And who knows, maybe I will be having a bowl or dish of something new that will launch me somewhere else. I will be well-nourished.