Arts and Culture

Sunday night at the Louisville Palace — as rows of audience members in cocktail attire and Cuisinart-branded name badges excitedly watched the stage — chef José Andrés popped up onscreen with an acceptance video for his 2017 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Lifetime Achievement award.

“I am only taking this award on behalf of the 11 million undocumented (immigrants) in America right now,” Andrés said. “They are part of the food system of America. Together we can improve the world one plate of food at a time.”

The IACP Awards recognize the best food writing of the year, from cookbooks to journalism to digital media — including video, photography and food styling. This is the first time the ceremony — and the corresponding IACP annual conference — have been hosted in Louisville.

But this wasn’t your typical “smile, wave and thank your mom” ceremony. From local talents who were recognized nationally, to established international food professionals, Sunday night’s IACP awards made one thing clear: the greater culinary community is mobilizing to spread the message that everyone — regardless of race, ethnicity or country of origin — has a seat at the table.

It began with Andrés’ acceptance speech.

The DC-based chef who emigrated from Spain in the 90s has long been a champion of immigrant issues. In 2014, he was recognized as an Outstanding American by Choice by President Barack Obama, and was notably involved in a legal dispute with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump over his decision to withdraw plans to build a high-class restaurant in the new Trump Hotel.

Andrés’ pulled out in July 2015 after Trump made various remarks attacking Mexican immigrants.

The final line of Andrés’ acceptance speech — “Together we can improve the world one plate of food at a time” is a sentiment that was reiterated time and time again throughout the evening, including by Ronni Lundy, the Kentucky-born author whose work, “Victuals” won the American cookbook category.

During her acceptance speech she said the proposal for “Victuals” had been out for nearly eight years, and that she was gratified that Appalachian foodways and people — which are both often mischaracterized and oversimplified — were being recognized.

Similarly, author Naomi Duguid said her book “Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan,” — which was a winner for the culinary travel category — was a practice in “shedding light” on a culture which is often stereotyped or misunderstood (just as she did in her previous cookbook, “Taste of Burma.”)

Martha Holmberg is the CEO of the IACP. She said she was not surprised the evening took a turn toward focusing on food as a connector between cultures.

“That’s obviously always been true, ever since cavemen were having dinner parties, you know,” Holmberg says, “‘Come sit at my table, and the world is a little bit different.’”

She said one of the important aspects of the IACP awards is that it helps direct people to resources that aid in learning more deeply about the intricacies of global cuisine.

“Books are a way to put it all in context,” Holmberg says. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, I had an Afghan lamb stew,’ but a really good cookbook will help you understand who is eating it and why.”

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.