The James Beard Foundation has decided not to name winners for its prestigious Restaurant and Chef Awards this year, and instead will highlight all of the chefs, restaurants, restaurateurs and beverage professionals who have been nominated, the foundation said Thursday.
It also will not present the traditional awards in 2021, it said.
“The choice comes as restaurants continue to suffer the grave negative effects of COVID-19, and as substantial and sustained upheaval in the community has created an environment in which the foundation believes the assignment of awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle,” it said in a statement. “The awards’ usual positive impact on restaurants and chefs’ businesses will likely not be fully realized due to the current state of the industry, with many restaurants closed permanently or temporarily or operating at minimal capacity. These factors helped to inform the decision not to assign winners during a time of such turmoil.”
Instead, the previously-announced virtual ceremony will be held on Sept. 25 and broadcast from Chicago via Twitter.
That broadcast will “be a night of storytelling surrounding the historic challenges [the restaurant] community faces and how we can work together to rebuild a stronger and more equitable restaurant industry,” The Beard Foundation said.
Previously announced winners in the America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards categories will be honored as usual, and many of the nominees will be featured during the broadcast, the foundation said.
Given the circumstances of the pandemic, the foundation said an awards presentation in 2021, which would be based on activities in 2020, “would be unfair and misguided.”
Instead, the 2021 ceremony will “be a celebration 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.”
It said it was also working on making the awards more transparent and equitable going forward.
That includes working with an external “social justice agency” to rework the awards process with the goal of removing systemic biases and increase diversity among the candidates, and “align the awards more outwardly with the foundation’s values of equity, equality, sustainability, and excellence for the restaurant industry.”
Until now, the semifinalists and finalists of the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards were selected by regional and national panels comprised of food and beverage media and past winners.
In recent years the awards had been criticized for going mostly to white men, with the same nominees being named over and over again.
That has changed somewhat in recent years in terms of diversity — in 2018 more women than men won Restaurant and Chef awards, and an unprecedented four Black chefs were honored — although many of the same people continue to get nominated each year.
Last year the foundation announced changes to the awards, in an effort to be more transparent, consider a wider field of awards candidates and to take into consideration a restaurant’s culture to avoid honoring chefs who mistreated their staff.
Several past honorees, including Mario Batali and John Besh, have been driven out of the industry following allegations of sexual misconduct. Those previous changes were in part a response to that and the rising national awareness of harrassment in the workplace.
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