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Food Columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson Wins James Beard Media Award

L.A. Times Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson
(Cody Long / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times Food Columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson won a 2020 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Columns for his popular power rankings series that has sparked much reader debate.

The awards were announced by the James Beard Foundation in a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, May 27.

Peterson’s entry included three columns: The Official Fast Food French Fry Power Rankings, The Official Spicy Snack Power Rankings and The Official Domestic Beer Power Rankings.

He launched the series with the French fry power ranking last February, taste-testing more than 20 fast food fries. “I am pleased as punch to announce the authoritative, totally not subjective, incontrovertibly definitive and 100% correct L.A. Times Fast Food French Fry Rankings,” Peterson said in an introduction, before declaring Five Guys’ the best.

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Shockingly to many Angelenos (and causing an intern to fire off a tweet that went viral), Peterson said the fries from In-N-Out were the worst of the bunch, referring to them as “bland, crumbly little matchsticks that aren’t improved by any amount of ketchup.”

“The original idea of power rankings was to gently poke fun at food media. It’s important to write about fancy restaurants, but it’s also important to write about stuff most people actually eat,” Peterson said. “I deliberately try to choose foods that are comfort foods, or tied to people’s childhoods or formative years — everyone has an opinion about things like candy and fast food, and is willing to go to the mat to defend their opinions.”

Although all his rankings have been hotly debated, Peterson said the fries ranking remains the most controversial to this day. “The way people came out of the woodwork to defend In-N-Out’s fries (including the mayor!) showed that food, in some cases, has nothing to do with our commonly accepted measures of quality and taste,” he said.

“With certain foods, people’s love is deeply emotional,” he added. “Maybe it’s tied to a particular road trip with their parents or a first crush in middle school. Our likes and dislikes are not always rational, and I think that’s an interesting thing to draw out of people.”

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While Peterson acknowledges that “it can get a little tiring eating 20 or 30 different types of a given food in a short period of time” to create the rankings, he’s far from complaining. “I’m very aware of how fortunate I am to be able to do this kind of thing and call it work,” he said.

The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone. The complete list of 2020 Beard Foundation Media Award winners can be found at jamesbeard.org.


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