For the first time in its 30 years of hosting an Oscars-like awards ceremony for restaurants and chefs, the James Beard Foundation announced Thursday that it will not be bestowing any awards during its planned September 25 broadcast.
Back in May when the James Beard Award finalists were announced, I questioned whether this seemed like a necessary or appropriate thing to even be doing with a pandemic raging and the entire hospitality industry facing a disaster like no other. The foundation had put off announcing the finalists and postponed the awards ceremony from May to September, but it all still felt a bit tone-deaf given the problems facing even the most successful independent restaurants right now, with no relief in sight.
In a blog post today, the James Beard Foundation says that it has thought better of awarding any medals this year, and will instead use the September 25 virtual event to celebrate this year's nominees and the previously announced honorees in categories like American Classics, which celebrates longstanding and beloved restaurants around the country.
Additionally, knowing that this is going to be no year to be celebrating splashy restaurant openings and the like, the foundation announced that the 2021 awards ceremony is canceled as well, though a planned May event will be used to celebrate "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."
"We did not come to this decision lightly,” says James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach. “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."
On September 25, in a ceremony broadcast live on Twitter, the JBF Foundation Awards will highlight this year's finalists, and bestow the previously announced honors in the categories of America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards. None of the regional chef awards, or awards for Best New Restaurant or Outstanding Restaurateur will be given out this year or next year.
Further, the foundation suggests it will use this time off to address systemic and structural inequities in how these honors have traditionally been given out — echoing statements and efforts made in the last few years to include more women-run and minority-owned restaurants among the nominees.
"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 says in a statement. "We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them."
This would have been the 30th anniversary for the James Beard Awards, which have become one of the highest honors in the restaurant world next to stars in the Michelin Guide — which are only given out for a small handful of American cities.
And speaking of the Michelin Guide, as the Chronicle reported last week, the 2020 California guide — the second of its kind after the organization opted to group Los Angeles and the Bay Area into a single guide last year — is still going to be published, as Michelin's inspectors reportedly completed all their fieldwork before the pandemic hit. It's an odd decision, given how obsessed Michelin usually is with "consistency" in how it bestows its stars — and there's no guarantee that the restaurants the inspectors visited back in February will reemerge in exactly the same form once indoor dining resumes. And the company declined to give the Chronicle any specifics about when the stars would be announced, or when the guide would come out (last year's came out in June).
Meanwhile, as Eater New York reported last week, Michelin inspectors were still "quietly making the rounds" among New York restaurants despite the fact that indoor dining remains shut down — and despite most of the city's three-star restaurants not even offering sit-down experiences at all right now. Depressingly, only 8 percent of Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S. have reopened in some form at all, while 79 percent of those in other parts of the world have reopened for business.
Photo courtesy of the James Beard Foundation