James Beard Winner – Michael Tremblay Walks Us Through The Magic
This is so good for sake. He’s so good for sake. Yes, our dear friend Michael Tremblay just won a James Beard Award for the book he co-wrote with Nancy Matsumoto called “Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth”, which we proudly sell at the store. *Yes we have signed copies. He also wrote an incredible deep dive sake education textbook called, “Sake Scholar Course” that we refer to almost every day at True Sake. And, you can take his course in Japantown, San Francisco in September right before SAKE DAY ’23. But before then, I asked Michael to write about his experience at the James Beard Award ceremony and in his own words, this is how he and Nancy have elevated sake to new heights:
I was in London celebrating the final night of the International Wine Challenge sake judging when I found out that the book I co-authored with Nancy Matsumoto, “Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth”, was nominated for a James Beard Award. I was excited to say the least. This nomination wasn’t something we remotely thought about while we were writing. I committed to writing this book because of my passion for sake.
Personally, I was hopeful that our book would receive a little more exposure because of the nomination, which to me meant a larger audience for the many individuals and stories we wanted to share with the world. To be surrounded by sake experts and amazing sake when receiving this great news was serendipitous!
The James Beard Awards are presented by the James Beard Foundation once a year. They recognize the many individuals doing great things in America’s food scene, from chefs and restaurateurs, to journalists, authors, and members of other media. The awards, founded in 1990, are named after James Beard, one of America’s first ‘foodies’, well before the word was even used. He ushered in food programming in the mid 20th century, and now this name is synonymous with prestigious culinary achievements.
What is the process in awarding the James Beard Award? There are several parts to it, and the James Beard Foundation really puts a lot of effort into ensuring an outcome that is not influenced by sponsors or campaigns. Each award has a subcommittee of experts that review the entries. For the media segment, these judges are drawn from authors, editors and other individuals that work in publishing. An independent accounting firm is hired to review the judging forms and count the ballots. It’s safe to say that if your book (or restaurant or chef…) is named a finalist, it has impressed not just one judge but rather a number of judges that have read your work.
Attending the awards ceremony in Chicago was surreal. There was electricity in the air at the Columbia College Student Center. It was amazing to be in a room filled with so many talented people. While I really wanted to win the award (after all, who wouldn’t?), we were in a category with two celebrated wine writers who I have long respected and whose books and other writings I have long admired. For me, the ‘nominee’ badge we were given WAS the award. I was grateful that we had made it this far. I didn’t write a speech, and I tried not to think about winning the medal since I didn’t want to be too disappointed with the likely outcome. Mercifully, we did not have to wait long on awards night, as our category was the third to be announced. I was really proud to see our sake book on the large screen along with the other esteemed finalists. When we found out we won, it was an incredibly surreal blur / out of body experience. First, I thought ‘holy cow, we won!’ Then, ‘oh shit, I didn’t prepare an acceptance speech’. Neither Nancy nor I had realized this might be required. When we got up on stage, the first thing that popped into my head was how amazing this was for the sake community. We told so many stories about the brewers, farmers, scientists and others connected to the sake world, and these stories had reverberated with the judges. The rest of the awards ceremony was full of many moving acceptance speeches. It was fascinating to hear about the amazing work that all nominees had done this year. It made me proud to be a part of such an accomplished and diverse group of people.
I had the pleasure of visiting True Sake in March 2023 where I signed the many copies on hand at the shop. I am so proud that "Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth" is available here! It’s cool to have the book sitting right next to all of the fridges stacked with many of the sake brands we talk about in our book!
In late September, just before Sake Day SF, I will be back in San Francisco teaching the Sake Scholar Course. This course is another avenue to tell the unique stories about sake breweries. The course starts with a Foundation section before tackling all 47 prefectures through the lens of sake and honkaku shochu. While the course is available online as well, teaching it in person is a unique experience for many reasons: the myriad of sakes the students get to taste that correspond to the teaching material; spending three intense sake-filled days with the like-minded and curious people and sake experts; and sharing my expertise as a sake samurai, author, and wine expert (yes that provides a new lens to exploring and understanding sake!) live in dynamic sessions. To cap it off (the icing on the sake cake!), students can opt to attend Sake Day SF the day after the course finishes. I’m excited for this course, and have a seat waiting for you to join me in San Francisco!
For more information on the Sake Scholar Course, visit sakescholar.com.