The Side Dish: And These, My Friends, Are My Favorite Stories To Tell

Today, I’m off for another food-filled extravaganza, and I’m finding myself in a bit of reflection prior to departure. Though I regularly attend events closer to home, I most enjoy the one weekend each month where I take time to travel and explore some far away destination. This weekend, it’s New York City.

I have a weakness for New York City, as many folks do. I began visiting when I was a teen, and over the years, have found myself in more familiar surroundings with each trip. It is a city of magic and possibility, dreams and limitless adventures. A place of fame, fortune, and food. It is the city where I announced proudly to my mother, only a few years back, that someday, I would be a writer.

In 2008, only six months after I began writing for Daily Blender, I attended my first food and wine event in New York City. I had read that Lee Schrager, the mastermind behind the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, was planning to take the party to NYC and I emailed to inquire if I might be able to attend. Graciously, he assisted with press passes, and I arrived ecstatic, with visions of chefs dancing in my head.

Unaware of what the weekend had in store for me, I made reservations at Le Bernardin, hoping, at the very least, to meet Chef Eric Ripert. As Ripert stood at our table that evening, shaking the hands of my mother and I as I stammered to describe my appreciation of the food (“I love the kimchi,” was all the brilliance I could muster) I remember wondering whether our meeting at the restaurant was going to be the highlight of my weekend or merely just the beginning. Much to my glee, it was only the beginning, as I spent the next day in food personality heaven, meeting fabulous folks like Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain, and nearly the entire Food Network before staggering onto a plane back home during early morning hours, intoxicated with the weekend’s unbelievable moments.

Since then, the events, and the moments, have only grown more amazing with each adventure. Like last May, when I attended Vegas Uncork’d, joining well-known chefs for photos on the red carpet, dining on the best eats Sin City had to offer. Or last June, when I trekked to the mother of all food & wine festivals, the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, talking with culinary favorites I had only seen on Great Chefs, experiencing the industry’s leading foodie gathering. And this past January, when I had the most amazing opportunity to attend the Cayman Cookout, surrounded by sun, surf, and chefs revered and respected worldwide – Ripert, Bourdain, Andres, Chang, Achatz – only to find they already knew me by name.

This week, as I venture to New York to cover next Monday’s James Beard Foundation Awards – an experience I never imagined I’d have – I’m beyond thrilled to be in the middle of such an industry unto its own. I am in awe of the hard work that chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, pantry chefs, and line cooks put into this noble profession each and every day, often without recognition or fanfare. It is a job requiring great dedication for success, with even the big names putting in long kitchen hours, losing personal time and relationships, to pursue dreams nearly within their reach. From the part-time high school workers to the award-winning chefs, it is an industry I greatly admire – with each story as individual as the characters involved – and I am grateful to have been welcomed into it so warmly.

Thank you all for your wonderful support of Daily Blender over the past two years. It continues to truly be a dream come true.

~Jennifer Heigl

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3 replies on “The Side Dish: And These, My Friends, Are My Favorite Stories To Tell”
  1. says: Jenny

    Bon voyage, and eat well for us, Jen! And as always, bravo! You are so fortunate to have found your niche, to be recognized and appreciated for your talents, and to be able and willing to share it with us. God, that was a terrible sentence, but I think you get the gyst. Make headway for us all out there!

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