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The James Beard awards won’t name winners this year

With the restaurant industry in crisis, they’ll refocus the annual ceremony on previous honorees and addressing systemic bias

Tracy Chang, Tiffani Faison, and Douglass Williams were three of this year's James Beard semifinalists, announced in February.

For the first time in its 30-year history, the James Beard Foundation won’t name winners at its annual awards ceremony, calling such an event unfair and misguided given the current circumstances. Considered the Oscars of the food world, the James Beard Foundation honors top chefs, restaurants, and beverage professionals nationwide.

Instead, its Sept. 25 ceremony will spotlight previously announced honorees and spotlight new initiatives to remove systemic bias in the restaurant industry. Signature categories such as Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Bar Program have been temporarily eliminated.

According to a release, the choice comes “as restaurants continue to suffer the grave negative effects of COVID-19 and as substantial and sustained upheaval in the community has created an environment in which the Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle.”

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The revamped ceremony will recognize previously named honorees in categories such as lifetime achievement, humanitarian of the year, and leadership. The ceremony will also focus on how to build a more equitable restaurant industry.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement. “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.”

Reichenbach said that the ceremony and awards would revert to their old format “when the industry is once again ready for them.”

In the meantime, the Foundation will conduct an internal and external review to address bias and focus on promoting sustainability, equity, and diversity in the restaurant industry.

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The September celebration will be live-Tweeted and later broadcast nationwide in May 2021.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.