By JEN SU

Supermodel and America’s Next Top Model TV mogul Tyra Banks was the Master of Ceremonies at the recent James Beard Foundation Media Awards in partnership with VISIT PHILADELPHIA® at Pier Sixty, Chelsea Piers in New York City.

“I’ve been obsessed with food my entire life,” recalled Banks in her opening remarks. “I have a deep appreciation for food, and not just what comes in my mouth and what it tastes like – but that it brings people together. Food is not just about nourishment for our bodies and satisfaction for our cravings – but it’s a platform – for people to share deep and personal stories, not just around that table, but actually in a mass way, in media.”

Tyra Banks at the James Beard Foundation Media Awards. Photo courtesy James Beard Foundation

Rocking an elegant black jumpsuit and chestnut beret, the supermodel presented the year’s best culinary media awards, including podcast, shows, cookbooks and documentaries

 

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Chefs Rory McDonald of Chanson, Robert Toland of Terrain Cafe, Kate Jacoby of Vedge, Tova du Plessis of Essen Bakery, Matthew Tiscornia of Pier Sixty, Andrew Farley of High Street on Market, Maylia Widjojo of Hardena, and Ange Branca of Saté Kampar. Not pictured: chef Diana Widjojo of Hardena. Photo by R. Rabena for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

 

Banks talked about her relationship with food. “Throughout my career, I have been super hyper focused on work and sacrificing a lot of personal happiness. I devoted all of my time to work, so I had no time to cook. I would eat at restaurants, a lot. When I lived in New York City, I would go out to eat 21 times a week – yes, do the math – so we only had a couple of meals that were at home.”

I wanted to be my son’s chef – and I did something about it

“I will admit, there may have been a frozen dinner – once or twice or more than that – however, that all changed when I had my son. My son is three and a half years old, and I didn’t want him growing up and thinking that food was only in fancy restaurants, fast food restaurants, or just an ‘app’. I wanted to be my son’s chef – and I did something about it. Three years ago, I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena (California), a serious ‘boot camp’ – and America’s Next Top Model boot camp ain’t got nothing on boot camp at the ‘CIA’!”

Tyra Banks hosted the James Beard Foundation Media Awards 2019 dinner at Pier Sixty in New York City. Photo by R. Rabena for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

 

‘I was in this industry and still connected to an industry that taught me not to eat’

“You guys know I was in this industry and still connected to an industry that taught me not to eat,” Banks recalled. “I had this experience where my modelling agency told my mother many years ago that I was gaining weight – my butt was getting too big and that I wasn’t going to be able to do these eight fashion shows this year, and next year it’d be 16 fashion shows – the bigger my butt got, the bigger the list would get of people that did not want to hire me.

“And my mother said, ‘Do you know what we’re gonna do about that?’ And I was crying in tears, while my mom said, ‘We’re gonna get pizza.’

And over that pizza, we strategized on how to find clients, that would appreciate the ‘ass’ that was growing – that turned me into a woman. When I walked down the Victoria’s Secret runway with those heavy wings, I was 25 to 30 pounds heavier than the average model. Now I’m 50 pounds heavier than they are, and still feel fabulous.”

Among the winners honoured posthumously were Anthony Bourdain of CNN’s Parts Unknown; food writer Jonathan Gold, as well as Chef Fatima Ali, who passed away this year from terminal cancer.

The late Anthony Bourdain, pictured in Johannesburg with South African journalist Percy Mabandu. Photo courtesy CNN

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The 2019 Cookbook Hall of Fame recipient was Jessica B. Harris, who championed African-American culinarians and those from the African continent.

Jessica B. Harris. Photo by John Pinderhughes / James Beard Foundation.

 

Six Philadelphia restaurants and chefs, including Vetri Cucina (Marc Vetri), Zahav, Fork and High Street on Market (Ellen Yin), Royal Izakaya (Jesse Ito), Vedge (Rich Landau), and South Philly Barbacoa (Cristina Martínez) have been nominated in a list of 30 establishments across 21 different restaurant and chef-related categories.

Jen Su with Daniel Davis and Cara Schneider of Visit Philadelphia, JBFA Media Awards

 

The restaurant and chef winners will be announced in a separate James Beard Awards Gala, coming up in Chicago on 6 May and hosted by Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

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