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Edna Morris tapped to clean up James Beard

Edna Morris has been named the interim executive director of the James Beard Foundation, with responsibility for cleaning up the organization's image and structure in the wake of a scandal related to a former chief's embezzlement of funds. Morris said she would focus on "four important issues: ethics, fiscal responsibility, integrity, and excellence."

The organization was plunged into scandal when allegations surfaced last year that former longtime president Leonard Pickell had diverted Foundation funds for his personal use. He has since pled guilty to taking more than $50,000.

Among the specific objectives set for Morris by the Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes American food and chefs, was the drafting of a code of ethics. It was not clear whether that statement of policy would extend to the circumstances under which chefs cook at fund-raising dinners hosted in the Foundation's New York facility, the former residence of famed food writer James Beard. In the wake of the Pickell scandal, some chefs criticized the practice because they're expected to pick up expenses like food and travel for themselves and their staff, but feel they cannot say no because a refusal would impair their chances of winning a prestigious James Beard award. The award competition has since been split off from the Foundation and given its own administration.

The Foundation also indicated that Morris would be responsible for staffing, which could mean finding her own replacement. Morris has indicated that she wants to continue living in Florida, which would preclude her from taking the job on a permanent basis.

The position marks a career shift for Morris, who rose to prominence through chain-restaurant operations. Most recently, she had served as president of Red Lobster, but split with that company after several months of traffic declines.

The Beard Foundation is more closely connected with fine dining. It was formed in part by Julia Child to commemorate the efforts of James Beard to celebrate the uniqueness of American cuisine.

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