Admitting that it was “not aggressive enough” in addressing racial injustice, the James Beard Foundation announced several changes this week aimed at beginning to level some racial inequities in the independent restaurant industry.
Most notably, the advocacy and education organization said it would change the way it handles its prestigious dinners at the James Beard House in New York City. Historically, chefs have had to pay their own way to participate in the dinners after being invited by the organization. Going forward, events at the James Beard House and at JBF events around the country will focus on “compensating talent,” the organization said.
“The ‘privilege’ of an invitation to cook has required featured chefs to foot much of the bill to participate,” the Foundation said in a statement. “While we’ve increased the stipend for chefs cooking at the James Beard House and at other events around the country, the expense of participation denied many deserving chefs the opportunity.”
The JBF is most well-known for its annual James Beard Foundation Awards program, which, the organization acknowledged, “have also reinforced inequities.”
The group said it is working with its internal committee, as well as outside consultants, to identify changes in the awards selection process that would better support racial justice.
The James Beard Foundation is also creating a new Open for Good Industry Support Fund. The fund’s first phase of grants will prioritize Black-owned restaurants, with more information on the fund slated in the coming weeks.
“This is not a quick fix,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement. “We aren’t just going to try to make things look better. We’re going to do the work to make the industry better for the Black and Brown people who not only make up half of our industry, but who are fundamental to the history and expression of America’s food culture—past, present and future.”
The James Beard Foundation has long been criticized for its lack of diversity and its lack of support for BIPOC-owned restaurants. In 2018, the group made a concerted effort to focus on diversity in choosing its semifinalists, creating selection committees that mirror the demographics of the U.S.