On Monday (5.06), the elite of the food & beverage world will dust off their tuxes & gowns and convene in Chicago for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards. Billed as “the Oscars of the restaurant world,” the annual ceremony honors the (theoretically) best of the restaurant and beverage industry in the U.S. Have questions? We got answers!
Where and When?
The awards gala/ceremony will kick off at Chicago’s Lyric Opera at 7pm EST. There’s also a “red carpet” element that begins at 6:30pm EST.
How does one watch?
The James Beard Foundation will be live-streaming the event on Twitter as well as announcing each winner through individual tweets. Their account is linked here.
Who picks the winners?
The process starts with an open call for nominees in mid-October. This process yields thousands of entrants who are narrowed down to a long-list by an awards committee (comprised of industry pros & journalists serving staggered three year terms).
A roughly 300 member jury of past-winners and committee members then votes on the long-list generating a short-list. The same body then votes on the short-list (finalists) to pick the winners.
Who’s a finalist?
The entire short list can be found here.
What do the winners get?
Winners receive a certificate plus a pretty rad medal. Oh, also, they get enough PR to make a business… and some bragging rights (because chefs need another reason to talk smack.)
Are the Beard Awards problematic in terms of social justice and equality?
Historically? In the past, winners have mirrored much of the industry’s focus—which is to say lots of white men from a handful of coastal cities. (Also, 2004-05, saw JBF’s chief jailed for grand larceny, not to mention, the entire Board’s resignation.)
However, in the past few years, organizers have launched a noticeable effort to diversify on many fronts including gender, race, and even geography. Significantly, last fall, the Foundation restructured their awards committees to more accurately reflect the U.S.’ demographics. In addition, the powers-that-be issued some strongly worded instructions to the committees calling for more diversity. Finally, the organization stripped voting powers from high profile abusers such as John Besh.
Who was James Beard?
Julia Child dubbed Beard the “Dean of American Cuisine.” During his youth in the early part of the 20th century, Beard embraced the life of a bon vivant—an epistemology that he carried with him until his death. That passion for food and people exploded into a public persona wo authored books, hosted television shows, founded a cooking school, and dedicated his life to advancing the nation’s culinary heritage and future.
If you’d like to learn more about the man, we highly recommend this episode of PBS’ American Masters.
What is the James Beard Foundation?
After Beard’s 1985 passing, Julia Child and Peter Krump organized a group of culinary heavyweights who purchased Beard’s NYC brownstone, the site of countless salons and dinner parties amongst the eaterati.
The following year, the brownstone acquisition effort evolved into a full-blown non-profit, the James Beard Foundation. The JBF dishes out millions in scholarships, hosts frequent dinners to showcase rising chefs, and generally promotes the cause of eating better in the U.S.
Finally, why Chicago?
We were wondering that ourselves! The awards hosted their 25th anniversary in Chicago in 2015. Both the city and the Foundation seemed to be happy and the ceremony stayed in Cook County for the subsequent three years. In 2018, the Foundation opened up a competitive process to determine the host city until (at least) 2027. Chicago once again prevailed, beating New Orleans and San Francisco.
Cover Image: 2016 James Beard Awards by Eliesa Johnson.