James Beard Awards

What are the James Beard Awards?

Have you ever wanted something so badly you could taste it? Have you ever had a dream for your life so intense that you can hardly think about anything else?

We tend to work harder when we seek to earn an achievement. We can become so entirely engrossed in what we are doing that a new world seems to open up! This is exactly what the James Beard Awards are doing!

The James Beard Awards are changing the way we recognize excellence in the culinary industry!

Awards encourage people to strive to do more and be more. Awards in any industry not only recognize what has been achieved but push the boundaries and set the bar that one notch higher each time.

The Best of the Best

Culinary experts around the world are constantly honing their skills and opening their imaginations. And much like how the entertainment industry strives to gain our approval, top chefs are doing the same.

Whereas directors and actors have the Grammys and Oscars to look forward to, our favorite chefs and restaurants have their own accolades to earn. These awards gain them recognition among peers, growth in business, and self-accomplishment.

The Michelin Guide, World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the James Beard Awards are among the top prestigious awards a chef or restaurant can receive.

The James Beard Foundation firmly encourages excellence and innovation in the kitchen. For those of us that love eating good food, this is great news!

What is the James Beard Foundation?

“ The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.”James Beard

I honestly could not have said it better. The official mission statement from the foundation’s website sums up the goals of the foundation simply and strategically. Truthfully, the foundation is much more.

Peter Kump, a former student of James Beard, started the foundation in 1986. After purchasing Beard’s New York brownstone, Kump began holding monthly dinners that recognized the talents of established and upcoming chefs alike. Today, the James Beard House hosts over 200 dinners annually, featuring top chefs such as Charlie Trotter and Emeril Lagasse.

While the James Beard Foundation is most recognizable by the annual awards hosted in April/May each year, close to Beard’s birthday of May 5, there are a wealth of programs that encourage the foundation’s values.

The foundation recognizes American food culture through established chefs and industry professionals. They continue to promote Beards ideals through programs that educate people about American food.

The non-profit culinary arts organization hosts programs ranging from scholarships and chef dinners to the yearly industry awards.

James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program

The James Beard Foundation Scholarship program offers three different types of financial aid. The scholarship program was established in the beginning stages of the foundation in 1991. The program assists aspiring and established chefs in attaining their dreams of furthering their education at an accredited culinary institution.

Scholarships, tuition waivers, and work-study grants are made possible through sponsors of the James Beard Foundation. Studies offered can vary from culinary studies, pastry and baking, wine studies, nutrition, and more.

Over $8 million has been awarded to students through financial aid programs at the James Beard Foundation. Scholarships are even available to international students!

James Beard Foundation Women’s Leadership Program

The James Beard Foundation Women’s Leadership program encourages and assists women at all levels of the hospitality industry. The foundation shows strength and commitment to diversity through this program.

In a previously male-dominated industry, this program helps women through scholarships, training, partnership, and more. Specifically, the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program is advanced specifically for women business owners in the hospitality industry.

This program provides female entrepreneurs with education, training, and much-needed networking.

You can read on the James Beard Foundation website how they are focused on seeing more women-owned businesses, more financial opportunities, and more women in leadership.

Open for Good

The Open for Good program is a James Beard Foundation campaign in reaction to COVID-19 and the strain the industry has taken.

This campaign focuses on helping locally-owned restaurants survive the impact of COVID-19 and succeed in the future. This campaign not only supports the eat local mentality but also brings recognition to just how hard the industry experts are working for us to enjoy!

The mentorship program creates an emphasis on women, trans individuals, and the LGBTQ community across the industry in hopes of building a more diverse and sustainable future. Again, the foundation is encouraging education, training, information, resources, and networking through the program.

Open for Good has a well of resources from free books to webinars for the hospitality industry that help to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Chefs Boot Camp

In 2012, the foundation created the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. Through the Chefs Boot Camp program, many industry leaders came together during the COVID-19 pandemic to create the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

The coalition is working to help with restaurant relief in light of the pandemic. The Chefs Boot Camp program encourages and trains chefs across the country to mobilize. These voices speak out in support of policy decisions that have a direct impact on the hospitality industry.

For the first time, the industry has a coalition of people speaking out and vocalizing their needs and expectations!

Who is James Beard?

Do you support the “eat local” movement? Have you ever coveted the locally grown vegetables in a Sunday stew? Or have you cherished the robust flavor of Wisconsin cheese? If so, you are enjoying the fruits of labor from the late James Beard.

James Beard was a pioneer in American food culture, cultivating unique flavors and techniques available to American chefs. He pushed aside the typically recognized ideals of gourmet cuisine while urging American’s away from processed foods.

While, in essence, Beard is the father of American cooking television, he was much more than just a TV personality. His memory is honored through the James Beard Foundation.

Beard was an American chef as well as a teacher. In addition to starring in TV cooking shows, Beard published more than twenty cookbooks.

Through his 20’s, Beard had the opportunity to travel through much of the States and Europe. He spent time enjoying French cuisine in Paris.

After returning to the United States, James Beard spent time attempting a career in acting. When this dream did not come to fruition, he and a friend started a catering business Hors d’Oeuvre. From this venture, he published his first book, Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapes, in 1940.

In 1946, James hosted I Love to Eat, the first live televised network cooking show. He soon became known as the Dean of American cooking.

The James Beard Cooking School was established in 1955 in New York City. James Beard would spend the rest of his life cooking, writing, teaching, and appearing on TV as a cooking personality.

What are the James Beard Awards?

The James Beard Awards are hosted annually to provide recognition to culinary experts in the United States. The awards were established in 1990 and have grown exponentially since.

The awards are modeled after the beliefs of legendary chef James Beard.

One of my favorite quotes from Beard is, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” The James Beard Awards strive at diversity and equality, bringing recognition not only to the chefs but the multitude of professionals creating the culinary industry.

Otherwise known as the “Oscars of the food world” (the term first used by TIME magazine), the James Beard Awards not only recognize excellence and innovation among chefs but have reached out to include the restaurants, journalism, and media involved in the hospitality industry.

The foundation lists the six main categories for the awards as Restaurant and Chef, Book, Journalism, Broadcast Media, Restaurant Design, and Leadership. The awards recognize individuals and teams who are promoting the foundation’s main principle of making food more delicious, diverse, and sustainable.

The James Beard Awards are considered the highest honor in the food industry. Until 2015, all of the awards were presented in New York City. Chicago now hosts the chef and restaurant awards until 2027, while the media awards dinner remains in New York City.

Types of Awards

There are more than 20 awards available through the James Beard Awards. There are 10 regions available for the “Best Chef” award, while only one “Outstanding Chef” award.

Best New Restaurant, Lifetime Achievement Award, and Rising Star Chef of the Year are among the top accolades each year.

Restaurant and Chef Awards

In 2019, Giving Kitchen in Atlanta, GA, won the Humanitarian of the Year award. The recipient of this award is seen as having provided work that has improved the lives of others and benefited society.

The Lifetime Achievement award is given to someone who has created a lasting impact on the industry. Patrick O’Connell was the last recipient of this award in 2019.

Other awards in this category include Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Chef, Rising Star Chef of the Year, Outstanding Service, and Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Restaurant Design Awards

The Restaurant Design category offers three awards, 75 seats and under, 76 seats and over, and Design Icon.

The Design Icon award went to Chez Panisse of Berkeley in 2020.

Book Awards

Ethiopia Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa book cover The Book category sees awards categorized from American Cooking to Photography and everything in between. Other awards include Baking and Dessert, Beverage with Recipe, General Cooking, and Single Subject.

The International Book award was won by Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa by Yohanis Gebreyesus with Jeff Koehler (Interlink Publishing) in 2020.

The Whole Fish Cookbook New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think book cover The foundation awarded The Whole Fish Cookbook: New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant Books) as Book of the Year in 2020.

Broadcast Media Awards

The Broadcast Media awards category is as diverse as the applicants themselves. The category has grown to include not only mainstream media but the newfound internet craze that has overtaken how we receive information.

Categories include Documentary, Online Video, on Location, and Outstanding Personality.

Journalism Awards

Journalism recognizes the extremes that journalists go to to bring us the best of the best. Oftentimes without journalists, many faces would remain unknown.

Journalism awards include Feature Reporting, Health and Wellness, Home Cooking, and Emerging Voice Award.

The last full awards program was hosted in 2019. The James Beard Foundation subsequently canceled the Restaurant and Chef awards in 2020 due to COVID-19 and further postponed any awards ceremonies and submissions for 2021, citing a revision of their policies and procedures.

A full list of the awards received in 2019 can be found at JamesBeard.org.

The Social Change

In 2020, the James Beard Foundation announced that it would be canceling the Restaurant and Chef awards due to COVID-19. Later, the foundation released an article stating that they were working to remove any social bias in the system.

The 2021 awards were further canceled as any effort to recognize work achieved in the 2020 year would seem unfair. Instead, the foundation has encouraged all to recognize the efforts and achievements made by the industry in these unprecedented times.

COVID-19 provided challenges previously unfaced and never imagined within the industry.

The foundation further explained that through a series of committees, they would be working to overhaul the awards system. They hope to increase diversity, maintain relevance, and have an outward appearance that more visibly represents the foundation’s key values, equity, equality, and sustainability as well as excellence.

While the foundation holds strong that their decisions were based on the economic impacts that COVID-19 had on the industry, many have believed that the decision to look into the system has come about by recent social events in the States.

Regardless of the reason behind the choices, an institution that is already held in such high regard by the industry professionals can only benefit by recognizing the social climate of the very professionals they wish to honor.

The James Beard Foundation holds true to its mission statement and values by striving for excellence and equality within the foundation itself as well as its award nominees. We raise a glass in a toast to the innovative pioneers that continue to honor Beard’s memory.

Until Next Time

There is a great honor in achieving one’s goals. Through recognizing culinary professionals, we continue to encourage an ever-growing industry, constantly changing and improving.

While social climate can oftentimes create an inconceivable situation, respect must be given to an institution that strives to improve itself as well as those it recognizes.

The hospitality industry is one in which we gain so much as individuals. It is also an industry that we tend to be incredibly critical of. Too often, little thought is given to the hours of preparation, creativity, and skill that go into a meal we are served.

The James Beard Awards strive to recognize local, experienced, and aspiring industry professionals. The awards recognize not only the chefs that create the one-of-a-kind meals but also the journalists, documentaries, and authors that bring us the information.

Whether you sit down to enjoy a grass-fed steak, a classic American burger, or a delectable dessert, look for the acclaimed James Beard Award and know you are in for the most memorable meal.