Awards News

James Beard suspends culinary awards for 2 years, following criticism

James Beard suspends culinary awards for 2 years, following criticism

Steven McHugh chef San Antonio
Chef Steve McHugh from San Antonio was a nominee for Best Chef: Texas. Facebook

Blaming challenges from the coronavirus, the James Beard Foundation has decided that, for the 2020 version of its annual restaurant and chef awards, it will not name winners.

The foundation already named its 2020 nominees in the spring, and a winner for each category would have been announced at their annual awards ceremony in September.

A ceremony will still take place on September 25, but it will only recognize winners that were already announced, in a small handful of categories that include Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian of the Year. Those recipients include Texas restaurant Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que, which earned recognition in the "America's Classics" category.

In a statement, James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said that "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 decision 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. In a message posted to Instagram, the chef called for changes to the restaurant industry, including an end to tipping.

The year 2020 was to have been the first time the foundation dedicated an award to Best Chef in Texas. Finalists included Trong Nguyen and Anita Jaisinghani from Houston, Kevin Fink and Michael Fojtasek from Austin, and Steve McHugh from San Antonio.

The Foundation will also 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.

"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," Reichenbach said. "We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them."