The James Beard Foundation has announced major changes to its annual restaurant and chef awards. In light of the challenges the restaurant industry is facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Foundation will not name winners in 22 categories, ranging from Outstanding Restaurant to the first-ever Best Chef: Texas.
The awards, considered the Oscars of the food world, recognize the best culinary talent across the country in a wide variety of chef, restaurant, and media categories. Winning a Beard Award not only cements a recipient's status as having achieved excellence in their field but it also typically comes with a boost in celebrity and revenue.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement. “The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do. In short, an honor which we know is held in high regard, at the moment, feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in."
The Foundation's announcements comes after it received criticism for its intention to name winners during the coronavirus pandemic. David Kinch, chef-owner of three-star Michelin restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, California, publicly withdrew his name from consideration for Outstanding Chef, which is among the top honors the organization bestows. In a message posted to Instagram, the chef called for sweeping changes to the restaurant industry, including an end to tipping.
In Austin, today's announcement means Beard Award finalists Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye), Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie) will not win Best Chef: Texas. Other nominees for Best Chef: Texas include Steve McHugh (Cured in San Antonio), Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles in Houston) and Anita Jaisinghani (Pondicheri in Houston).
Instead, the Foundation's award ceremony on September 25 will recognize the already announced winners in the following categories: America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards. Those recipients include Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que, the Brownsville restaurant known for its traditional barbacoa, which earned recognition in the America's Classics category.
Going forward, the Foundation will not present awards in 2021. Instead, it will work with "an outside social justice agency to overhaul the policies and procedures for the Awards." The process intends to generate a more diverse group of nominees, remove systemic bias from the process, and maintain relevance, among other goals. After the review is complete and new processes are put in place, the traditional awards will return in 2022.
Rather than hold a normal awards ceremony, the Beard Foundation will use its 2021 program to "host an industry celebration shining a light on the members of the independent restaurant community who have shown leadership during this crisis and honoring those who have made a significant impact on the industry and in their communities when it was needed most," according to a press release.
"As we strive to provide an Awards program with the highest ethical standards, one that is fair, equitable, and reflective of the industry which we serve, we know that the right move is to step back and take stock of the nominees and honorees achievements," Reichenbach added. "We hope to focus our collective energy on helping our community get through this crisis and on addressing the inequities in the industry going forward. We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them.”