The James Beard House

I almost didn’t read the email that changed my life.

It was a cold winter morning, and I was absent-mindedly scrolling through my inbox while sipping coffee in bed. Buried among hundreds of promotional emails, there was this one. What could The James Beard Foundation want with a vegan food writer? Skeptical, I opened the message. 

An invitation to curate a dinner at the James Beard House! 

Sitting in disbelief, I was tossed into a spiral of emotions. I was immediately elated, humbled, honored, and terrified. Oscillating between impostor syndrome and validation, I accepted the invitation.

I learned about the James Beard Foundation in my early days as a publicist in Las Vegas. Working with chefs and doing PR for restaurants taught me the prestige of working with JBF is akin to an Oscar win for an actor. This invite meant my work was being acknowledged and elevated; that felt intensely amazing.

I knew if I was going to make it through the planning and execution of this event, I was going to have to stay out of my head, and keep myself focused on the work, and not the fear and anxiety.

It wasn’t easy, but I began to take stock of everything I had done since launching Vegans, Baby in 2016. I wrote in my journal: 

“In less than three years’ time, I have:

  • gone from a tiny website to being the expert on Vegas vegan dining
  • launched vegan food tours and sell-out events
  • created an internationally buzzed-about vegan dining month in the city.
    published a vegan dining guide 
  • been featured in the LA Times, VegNews, and LIVEKINDLY
  • been discovered by the most prestigious culinary association in the country, and one of the best in the world!”

I taped this to my fridge and used it to fuel myself in the months to come. Then, I began the process of hand-picking local chefs, revising menus, tasting dishes, and coordinating the event with JBF.

Leading up to the first dinner, I was nervous. Really, really nervous. Maybe I’d never be able to talk about how meat smoked by Chef So-and-So delicately falls off the bone, but I could certainly talk about how flavors and textures in a dish bring the plants alive. I know what an exceptional, extraordinary dish tastes like.

I knew the chefs I had chosen were amazing. But, would the discerning diners at the James Beard House think so? Was I really a tastemaker? Were my tastebuds of the same caliber as those of the Foundation who bestowed chefs with life-altering recognition?

I was going to find out. 

The kitchen at the James Beard House is small, and five chefs with assistants made it smaller. On the day of the event, I sandwiched myself in to watch. Before me, these masters of culinary art put their skills to use, methodically cutting, cooking, and meticulously plating each dish. It was perfect.

When it came time to give my speech before dinner, I gripped the mic, and the words I prepared flowed.

In front of a crowd of 50 strangers, I shared my story of working with elephants, giving up meat, and my previous misconceptions about veganism being hard. Then, I shared my solution of Vegans, Baby, and how it blossomed into so much more than I could have ever imagined, culminating in front of them.

Then my speech was over, wine was poured and the first course was placed before the guests. I sat down and finally felt the pressure of months of worry and planning leave my body. Between the second and third course, I took a moment and went out onto the balcony overlooking the House’s atrium.

Below me, the chefs prepared the next course, working together to plate and garnish. I stood there, looking down at the team I assembled. At the gorgeous plant food being served. The energy from the House filled my body; I felt the genius chefs who’ve graced it before encircle me. The teamwork made my heart tingle.

I did this. My work. My time. My knowledge. My taste. My movement in motion.

Looking down at the dinner unfolding below, I stood, gripping the railing and letting gratitude sink into every bone in my body.

I. Did. This.

The maître d’ of the dinner told me it was one of the best they’d had. Guests ate their food with smiles and compliments around the tables. I let the praise in and exhaled the negative out. The doubt. The fear. The worry I wasn’t good enough … they all disappeared and in that moment, everything was absolutely perfect.

Four months later, in the chill of New York fall, I returned to the House armed with a new posse of talent. This time, I knew I deserved to be there. That the chefs I had hand-selected were sensational, and that my opinion and my taste were valid.

Even the bone-chilling cold couldn’t take away the luster and joy from the dinner. When people told me my dinners were some of the best they’d been to at the House, I knew it was the truth. I didn’t question it. I didn’t shrug it off. Finally, I had arrived. 

May 18, 2020, was the next dinner in New York City. The line-up for this dinner was exceptional. It was five female chefs and the dishes they prepared were magnificent.

Only, the dinner didn’t happen — the pandemic did.

In mid-March 2020, I was fresh off a trip to New York where I spoke at Women’s Travel Fest. After, I was in Chicago scouting chefs for a high-end dinner similar to the ones I curated for James Beard. Not only that, I had launched three international vegan tours and was about to announce the Las Vegas chefs for the JBF dinner.

A tiny, microscopic invader canceled everything.

But, I refused to become a victim of the shutdown. 

Sure, for a few days I wallowed, eating marshmallows for breakfast straight out of the bag while standing in front of the cabinet. I spent hours looking absently out the window into the sunny Las Vegas morning. I scraped the bottom of pints of Nada Moo in the evening, scrolling aimlessly through social media and Netflix, never feeling satisfied.

Once I processed the grief — and there was such grief — I decided it was time to move forward and focus on the opportunities that were happening. More importantly, it was to remember my resourceful nature and make new opportunities. 

At the same time all this was happening, a hospitality group reached out to me regarding a new food hall called Platform One, inside Uncommons. They have 20 chefs each opening their own food stall, opening in December 2021. 

I signed a contract for the only plant-based food stall in Platform One, set to open in December 2021. The line-up for Platform One is me, and an amazing roster of local La Vegas chefs helming stalls.

Once again, I was the only one without a culinary background. But this time I am leading the way — not impostor syndrome. Through years of hard work, I’ve refined my taste, and I know how to eat! I’ve got a phenomenal concept for the stall and am working with a talented chef to bring my ideas for the dishes to life. 

As the vaccine begins its release into the USA, I’m ready. Waiting. Excited to bring to life this new world I have created for myself and see where this journey takes me. Most of all, I am ready to help you eat delicious food.

Diana Edelman

Kate Stowell

Thel Linden

Promotions Manager