A Sweet Night for BITTERS at the IACP Cookbook Awards

Photo: Cynthia Nims

Lest I bury the lede, I’m thrilled to report that this past Monday night at the Times Center in New York City, Bitters was presented with the 2012 IACP Cookbook Award for Wine, Beer & Spirits.

The theme of this year’s IACP conference was “The Fashion of Food,” so let’s first address “who I was wearing” to the awards ceremony. A boring charcoal gray suit is the answer, but I did gussy it up with a new gingham shirt from Billy Reid. (While shopping at the Billy Reid store on Bond street I was offered “water, beer, or bourbon.” Sipping two fingers of bourbon from a vintage rocks glass is a civilized way to shop and will temporarily wash away any sense of sticker shock by the time you hit the cash register.) And I left J. Crew’s Liquor Store in Tribeca with a new navy necktie, a Hill-side pocket square, and a pair of striped “dandy” socks. But the best accessory of all was the Stanley flask, filled for the occasion with Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year Reserve, I was packing in my suit jacket like a service revolver. Win or lose, this assured I’d be making friends at the after-party.

My publisher, Ten Speed Press, had seven titles nominated for IACP awards and they hosted a reception at the Random House offices before the ceremony. I got to catch up with my publisher, Aaron Wehner, and meet some of the sales force who helped spread the good word for Bitters with bookstores and specialty stores across the country.

Running behind, Aaron and I hopped a cab down to the Times Center on 41st Street and arrived just as they were flickering the lights to signal that things were about to begin. It was first-come, first-served seating in the auditorium and we wound up in the second row. (While the IACP Awards are sometimes said to be the Golden Globes of the food world, unlike the Golden Globes, it’s dry inside the ceremony.) My friend and fellow nominee Lisa Fain, whose debut cookbook, The Homesick Texan Cookbook, was a finalist in the American category, sat next to me. We were soon joined by Dave and Fred from Joe Beef in Montreal. Their stellar book, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, was also published by Ten Speed Press and remains my favorite cookbook of 2011. I leaned over to shake their hands and was greeted with a whispered “Ça Va?” as Mo Rocca, the night’s master of ceremonies, kicked things off.

When Francis Lam hopped up on the stage to accept one of the many awards Gilt Taste took home that night my first thought was, Wait, I could’ve worn jeans and cool sneakers instead of a suit? But Francis, and dark-denim-clad Saveur editor-in-chief James Oseland, have heaps more fashion sense than I ever will and can pull off the jeans and colorful sneakers as “cocktail attire” better than I ever could.

Many awards were handed out before the book awards came up and Wine, Beer & Spirits was one of the last categories on the docket, but before I knew it there was Bitters up on the big screen next to the other category nominees: The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine and Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate. I can’t recall much of what the gentleman presenting the award said before clearly hearing, “And the winner is… Brad Thomas Parsons for Bitters.”

I rose out of my seat and climbed over the Joe Beef guys, who sent me on my way with big bear-paw back slaps. As I made my way to the stage (it seemed like it took five minutes to get there) I recalled Aaron asking earlier in the night if I had prepared a speech. (I hadn’t, and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to read my own handwriting.) And once I was at the podium things really slowed down. There was a blinding light on me and the audience was cloaked in darkness. It was just me and a bare podium. So many people—from the entire staff at Ten Speed Press to chefs and bartenders to bitters makers to friends and family—played key roles in the success of Bitters but I didn’t want to bore the audience with a laundry list of names. But I did mention by name my agent, Michael Bourret; my publisher, Aaron Wehner; my editor, Emily Timberlake; and Ed Anderson, the amazing and super-chill photographer and designer who I described as equal parts George Harrison and the Dude from The Big Lebowski. I don’t necessarily have a fear of public speaking (I used to tread the boards as an English/Theatre double-major in my undergraduate days) but I was nervous and my body switched to auto-pilot. I could hear my voice quavering involuntarily as I spoke, and especially when I mentioned my late father, whose photo graces the dedication page of Bitters, and to whom I dedicated my IACP win.

I was then escorted backstage where the first person I saw was Ruth Reichl, who was dressed in a very ornate blue and gold ballgown. She looked at me curiously for a moment, then offered a “congratulations” as I was led downstairs where the pre-game portion of the after-party was already in progress. Photos were taken of me holding my award and then I was deposited at the bar where a much-needed Negroni was procured. Once the awards ended the downstairs became packed with party-goers and I celebrated the evening with friends and colleagues. It was great to meet so many new people who were kind enough to come over and offer kind words and see friends and colleagues like my Southern Foodways Alliance pals LeAnne Doss Gault and Amy Evans Streeter.

And once again lights were clicked on and off signaling you-don’t-have-to-go-home-but-you-can’t-stay-here. I followed a pack of revelers led by Michael Ruhlman to another after-party at the Andaz Hotel across the street from the New York Public Library.

I realized I hadn’t eaten anything save for a bag of vending-machine pretzels for lunch. My publisher, Aaron, said “One drink, then let’s find the Joe Beef guys,” and soon we were in a cab headed to DBGB on the Bowery. It was around 1AM and the restaurant was closed but Fred and Dave were occupying a booth in the back with Riad Nasr, the chef from Minetta Tavern. The kitchen was closed, so Aaron and I were still out of luck on the food front, but two cheese boards arrived at the table along with two bottles of wine. Not counting winning an award, hanging out in an empty restaurant telling stories and talking smack with the boys was probably the highlight of my evening. Out front, taxis were hailed, final nips of Pappy were tipped back, stubbly double-cheek kisses from Dave were exchanged, along with a promise to visit Montreal very soon.

Still hungry, Aaron and I connected with some friends in the West Village who were finishing up dinner upstairs at the Spotted Pig. Plates of Devils on Horseback and gnuddi arrived along with a crispy pig’s ear salad and their famous burger.

I made it back to Brooklyn around 3AM and set my alarm for 6AM. Despite the next-day hangover (literal and award-afterglow variety), all in all, it was a pretty cool Monday.