Saint Peter chef and fish-whisperer Josh Niland has taken out two awards – including book of the year – at the James Beard Foundation Media Awards 2020, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious food-publishing awards in the industry.
Niland's culinary tome The Whole Fish Cookbook won the "Restaurant and Professional" category, beating fellow nominees Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park: The Next Chapter, Revised and Unlimited Edition and Dishoom: From Bombay with Love by Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar, and Naved Nasir.
The Whole Fish Cookbook was also awarded the illustrious book of the year gong.
"It's pretty surreal," says Niland, who woke at 2.30am to find congratulatory social-media messages from his chef friends Jon Yao and Zen Jay Ong in Los Angeles. The awards ceremony was held via an online webinar at 1.30pm Eastern Time – in the dead of the night for the Sydney-based chef. "I went to bed without any expectation I would win." He didn't want to wake up his household with the good news, so he celebrated with "quiet fist pumps in the air."
It took just eight weeks for Niland to complete the book's first draft, though he stresses the final result was a team effort from a crew of editors and designers. "My brief in the beginning was that chefs should feel they can use it, but it needs to be friendly to everyone else," says Niland. He dips his toque to photographer Rob Palmer, designer Daniel New, stylists Steve Pearce and Jessica Brook, and Jane Willson and Simon Davis of publisher Hardie Grant. "The line we walked is really incredible and I couldn't have done that book alone."
Most of all, he acknowledges Julie Niland, co-owner of Saint Peter, for her unwavering support. The writing process commenced in November 2018, just as the couple were expecting their third child. "She's an incredible chef in her own right, and to have her support throughout the whole thing – she's a superstar," says Josh.
Julie and Josh Niland opened their seafood restaurant Saint Peter in Sydney's Paddington in 2016. There, Josh has turned heads for his groundbreaking approach to seafood, where his minimal-waste, hyper-sustainable philosophy has turned albacore eyes into crisp chips, Murray-cod fat into caramel, and fish hearts and offal into XO sauce; in 2018 he was named Gourmet Traveller's Best New Talent, before taking out the Chef of the Year title in 2019.
The Whole Fish has already claimed the prize for the Australian Book Industry's 2020 illustrated book of the year, while Palmer's striking image capturing the 32-year-old chef posing with a giant mahi-mahi won the National Photographic Portrait Prize held by the National Portrait Gallery.
The James Beard Foundation Media Awards recognise outstanding work in non-fiction food and drink books, and food-focused works in broadcast media and journalism. The awards are typically announced at a glittery ceremony, though COVID-19 forced the ceremony online. Niland says he did receive a "nice email" from the foundation congratulating him on his win. "I think I'll get a medallion and a certificate in the post. I'm sure I'll see that at some stage."
The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant Books, $55) is out now.
Extracts from Dishoom: From Bombay with Love feature in the June issue of Gourmet Traveller magazine.