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The 2020 James Beard Awards reaffirms commitment to a new mission: inclusion, diversity, justice


The presentation of the James Beard Awards, considered the Oscars of the culinary world, was broadcast live on Twitter from Chicago on Friday evening with little pomp and circumstance but a heaping helping of a new day.

The annual gala, usually held every May in Chicago at the Lyric Opera House, was canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic. Shortly afterwards it was announced that the winners in categories such as best restaurant, best chef in regional categories and outstanding chef would not be awarded this year. Instead, the James Beard Foundation (JBF), which annually recognizes excellence in the culinary world, revised its mission and purpose, and announced the award night honoring the previously announced winners for Leadership, Lifetime Achievement, Design and America’s Classics.

It was the first time in the history of the awards that the full list of winners in all categories was not disclosed, a practice that will carry over to the 2021 season due to the devastating impact on the food service industry in the past and the ongoing changes at JBF.

In a statement, the JBF said the changes to the purpose of the awards and the ceremony were made to enable the organization to “conduct a comprehensive internal and external review of the award systems to remove systemic bias and align the awards with the mission of the Foundation to reconcile the promotion of sustainability, justice and diversity in gastronomy. “

“It is our common duty to do everything we can to keep the restaurants going,” said Clare Reichenbach, CEO of JBF, in her opening speech on Friday evening. honor people in our community who have taken up the challenge of this moment. “

A recurring theme and a heartfelt request throughout the evening, which was hosted live from Chicago by food writer / media personality Ji Suk Yi, was to support local restaurants.

“Independent restaurants are at the heart of every city across America. We cannot underestimate the social and economic value they represent, ”said Reichenbach. The US restaurant community employs 16 million people, was once determined, and spans an industry worth $ 860 billion annually – roughly 4% of GDP. The pandemic has resulted in the closings (many of them permanent) of thousands of restaurants across the country and massive unemployment.

The ceremony recognized individuals and industry organizations who work across the country to improve their communities through programs and initiatives that promote equity, diversity and inclusion at all levels. In addition, the JBF announced a new initiative: the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans.

Here is the list of the winners of the virtual event on Friday evening:

The James Beard Leadership Awards

  • Phillip and Dorathy E. Barker, Co-Founders of Operation Spring Plant, Inc. (OSP)
  • Rosalinda Guillen, Managing Director, Community to Community Development (C2C)
  • Abiodun Henderson, Executive Director, The Come Up Project with Gangstas to Growers
  • Mark and Kerry Marhefka, owners, Abundant Seafood
  • Caleb Zigas, Managing Director, La Cocina

Life’s work: Jessica B. Harris, who has worked as a food historian and journalist on the history of the African diaspora. “African cuisine has changed the world in so many ways,” she said in an interview recorded from home. In his opening remarks, the musician Questlove mentioned Harris’ writings, including 12 cookbooks devoted to the story and characters who were “unseen and unsung, the butchers, bakers, farmers, farm workers, cooks, waiters”.

“If I can move away from the personal aspect, it also signals that I recognize the exceptional culinary heritage that I have been writing about for most of my 40 years,” said Harris.

America’s classic

  • Lassis Inn, Little Rock, Arkansas. Owners: Elihue Washington Jr. and Maria Washington
  • Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, Frankenmuth, Michigan, owners: Al Zehnder, Susan Zehnder and Martha Zehnder Shelton
  • Puritan Back Room, Manchester, New Hampshire. Owners: Arthur Pappas, Chris Pappas and Eric Zink
  • Oriental Market, Seattle. Owners: Mila Apostol and Joy Apostol
  • El Taco de Mexico, Denver. Owner: Sasha Zanabria
  • Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, Brownsville, Texas. Owner: Armando Vera

Design icon: Chez Panisse, Berkeley, California. Owner: Alice Waters

Humanitarian of the year: Zero Foodprint, which works across the country to promote wider commitment to organic farming and climate neutral restaurants.

The evening ended with a virtual round table discussion on the state of the restaurant industry, moderated by food writer / cookbook author Gail Simmons and attended by chefs Kwame Onwuachi, Tanya Holland and Chicago’s Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark from Parachute Restaurant.

“While we barely broke even during this pandemic, it felt really good to be able to help our frontline workers and cook for the local hospital and donate to the local seniors and the Korean-American community,” said Kim. “And we keep thinking about how we can give back to our community, especially during the protests. Black Lives Matter has paid a lot of attention to using our platform to talk about these issues as well as gender inequalities. People look to restaurants, believe it or not, they see us as leaders in the community, for social justice and change. “

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