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How one of the restaurant industry's most prestigious awards has changed


The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday announced the nominees for its Restaurant and Chef Awards.

For decades, we knew what we were getting from the awards: Mostly well-established chefs from fine-dining restaurants in major cities. Yes, they were usually white and male, but arguably more importantly they were largely from the same groups of chefs with well-established networks and hardworking publicists. The same nominees put forward by past winners and a cadre of food writers (including myself until the late 2010s) who didn’t change very often appeared on the ballots every year, minus whoever won the previous year. And when the big-name chefs such as Thomas Keller and the late Charlie Trotter won all the awards they could win, the nominations were passed on to their protégés.  

That’s no longer the case.

The Beard Awards were essentially canceled in 2020 and 2021 for obvious reasons, and in the interim the foundation did some serious soul-searching and reworked the criteria of the awards. Now those nominating potential winners must explain how the chefs, restaurants, bartenders, etc., fit into the foundation’s values “centered around creating a more equitable, sustainable, and healthy work culture.”

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