James Beard Foundation unveils massive changes to its annual awards

The changes are designed to better promote equity, inclusion and a positive work culture for the independent restaurant awards. The program has been criticized for promoting white chefs and restaurateurs to the exclusion of others.
James Beard Foundation
Photo courtesy James Beard Foundation

The James Beard Foundation Monday announced sweeping changes to its independent restaurant awards program with the goal of recognizing the industry’s diversity and boosting equity among judges and award winners.

The changes, which go into effect next month for the launch of the 2022 call for entry period, are the result of work that began more than a year ago to transform the way the prestigious organization operates. The Foundation undertook a full-scale audit of its policies and procedures by stakeholders, as well as consulting firms specializing in equity and justice, the organization said in a statement.

“These initial changes give us an opportunity to honor, recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of the industry,” VP of Awards Dawn Padmore said in a statement.

Among the major changes to the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards (JBFA):

  • A revised mission statement to recognize both talent and achievement in culinary arts as well as a “demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, environmental sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”
  • A revised definition of a JBFA recipient to include someone who is innovative, consistent and a champion of the culture of good food who also works to promote racial and gender equity, sustainability and a “work culture where all can thrive.”
  • Going forward, all award entrants must describe how their work aligns with JBFA’s mission and how it centers around creating a more equitable, sustainable and healthy work culture.
  • To foster diversity in judging, awards committee terms will decrease from three three-year terms to two two-year terms.
  • Additional diversity, equity and inclusion training will be required for all judges and committee members.
  • Previous restaurant and chef winners will no longer become default awards voters—their participation will be up to the subcommittee’s vote.
  • Entry fees for media awards will decrease from $150 to $75, while restaurant awards will continue to have no entry fee.
  • The foundation has established a code of ethics for all entrants, semifinalists, nominees and voters.
  • An independent, volunteer ethics committee is being formed to address any potential allegations that may arise.

Last year, the James Beard Foundation, an education and advocacy 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 changes arising from the audit are designed to ensure that our mission and values inform every element of the awards, that we’re doing all we can to level the playing field to help create a more equitable, more inclusive industry,” Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement. “This is a process of continuous evolution, learning and refinement.”

The next JBFA ceremony is slated for June 13 in Chicago.

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