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Kent Miller/courtesy JBF

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7 Charts That Explain the James Beard Awards

Tomorrow morning, the James Beard Foundation will announce the finalists for its 2015 Restaurant and Chef Awards, considered the top honor for professionals in the restaurant and hospitality industry. (Check out the 2015 semifinalist list here.)

But what does it take to actually win one of these things? As the JFBA marks its 25th anniversary this year, here's a look back at the past quarter-century's worth of winners in four major categories: Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Restaurant, Rising Star Chef of the Year, and Outstanding Chef. Could the past years' winners help predict which of tomorrow's 2015 finalists will take home the prize later this spring? Stay tuned.


JBFA Charts

The JBFA's Best New Restaurant category debuted in 1995, and its winners are described as restaurants opening in the preceding 12 months that "already display excellence in food, beverage, and service." The JBFA also notes that recipients are "likely to make a significant impact in years to come." What's the best way to win Best New Restaurant? Open in New York City, where 60 percent of all winners were located. More Best New Restaurant fun facts:

2006 was a banner year for nominees: NYC's the Modern managed to beat Alinea and Del Posto for the win. Its then-chef Gabriel Kreuther also beat familiar faces like Joel Robuchon (nominated for Joel Robuchon at the Mansion), Paul Bartolotta (nominated for Bartolotta Risto i), and Michael Cimarusti (of LA's Providence) for the honor.

Historically, only one Best New Restaurant winner has gone on to win Outstanding Restaurant: New York City's Jean-Georges won Best New Restaurant in 1998 and followed it up with an Outstanding honor in 2009.

Four past Best New Restaurant winners — representing 20 percent of all recipients — are currently shuttered. RIP to Las Vegas's Bradley Ogden, NYC restaurants L'Impero and Alain Ducasse, and Chicago's Brasserie Jo.

JBFA Charts
JBFA Charts

The JBFA describes its Outstanding Restaurant criteria as honoring a restaurant "that serves as a national standard bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere, and service." Restaurants must be open for at least a decade to be considered, and and once again, New York City restaurants have the advantage: NYC restaurants have won 50 percent of the 24 awards given out. The two restaurants representing "Other" cities are Washington, VA's Inn at Little Washington and Yountville, CA's the French Laundry. More Outstanding Restaurant fun facts:

San Francisco's Boulevard required the most nominations before finally snagging a win, with seven consecutive noms (from 2005 to 2011) before winning in 2012.

The most nominated restaurant without a win is Birmingham, Alabama's Highlands Bar & Grill, which currently has six nominations (in consecutive years from 2014 to 2009). Following closely behind is Chicago's Spiaggia, with five nominations thus far without a win (it was first nominated back in 2006).

Not counting the first year of the James Beard Awards (where everyone was nominated for the very first time), eight restaurants have won the Outstanding honor on their first nominations, including Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, and the French Laundry.

JBFA Charts

Want to win a JBFA for Outstanding Restaurant? It helps to already have a Michelin star in your pocket. Ever since the Michelin guides made their United States debut in 2005 (with a NYC guide; Michelin added San Francisco and Chicago in 2011), seven of the 10 Outstanding Restaurant winners also received at least one star from Michelin the year they won. The outliers: Galatoire in New Orleans (a city with no Michelin presence), Frontera Grill (which won before Michelin started publishing in Chicago), and San Francisco's the Slanted Door. The latter did not have a star in the 2014 Michelin guide when it won Outstanding Restaurant that same year.

One way to predict an Outstanding Restaurant winner is by the strength of its service: 50 percent of Outstanding Restaurant winners have also won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Service, which is bestowed upon restaurants that are at least five years old. Of the restaurants that have won both, eight out of 12 won Outstanding Restaurant after winning the Outstanding Service award; four won Outstanding Restaurant before the service nod.

New York City's Le Bernardin is the restaurant with the longest period of time between its first nomination and eventual win: It was first nominated for Outstanding Restaurant back in 1991, finally taking home the prize in 1998.

JBFA Charts

The James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year goes to "a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come." Of the four Beard awards mentioned here, Rising Star is where voters are most likely to give nods to female chefs and chefs based outside New York City: 23 percent of winners were based outside the culinary powerhouse cities of NYC, SF, and Chicago. (2013's recipient, Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien, was honored for both his restaurants, in New York City and San Francisco.) Other observations:

Los Angeles has largely struck out in the Rising Star category, with no LA-based chef ever winning the award. The city's last finalist in this category dates back to 2008, when Osteria Mozza's Matt Molina was nominated.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a category that recognizes up-and-coming chefs, the majority of winners — 80 percent — are no longer with the restaurant for which they received their Rising Star recognition. The longest hold-out is 2007 winner David Chang, who won for Momofuku Noodle Bar (and will probably be sticking around there for a while). Had Bobby Flay not had to shutter his NYC restaurant Mesa Grill in late 2013, he would've easily had the record, winning his Rising Star award for that restaurant back in 1993.

Only two Rising Star winners have gone on to win Outstanding Chef: David Chang, who won Outstanding Chef in 2013 (as part of a tie) and Rising Star in 2007; and Grant Achatz, who won Outstanding Chef in 2008 and Rising Star Chef in 2003.

JBFA Charts

The JBFA describes its Outstanding Chef Award as one that honors "a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals." Twenty-seven people have won the Outstanding Chef award since 1990, thanks to two ties, in 2013 and 1998. Some Outstanding Chef fun facts:

JBFA Charts

After the award's debut in 1991 — which saw all nominees hailing from Los Angeles — the majority of winners have been based in New York City; its Outstanding Chefs have taken the prize 44.44 percent of the time. Chefs from Napa Valley (Alice Waters and Thomas Keller), Virginia (Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington), and Las Vegas (Jean-Louis Palladin of Napa) represent winners in the "Other" column.

NYC's Tom Colicchio is the chef who received the most nominations before a win, with seven (spanning two restaurants, Craft and Gramercy Tavern). He finally took home the Outstanding Chef prize in 2010.

Nobu Matsuhisa is the most nominated chef without a win, and his nine nominations span three different restaurants: Nobu Beverly Hills, Matsuhisa (in Los Angeles), and Nobu (in NYC). Meanwhile, LA chef Suzanne Goin is also racked up a handful of nominations without a win — six so far.

Eight chefs — including Daniel Humm, Grant Achatz, and Judy Rogers — won Outstanding Chef on their first-ever nomination.

Los Angeles's Nancy Silverton is the only chef to have won both Outstanding Pastry Chef (in 1991, for Campanile) and Outstanding Chef (in 2014, for Pizzeria Mozza). She also happens to be the oldest-ever Outstanding Chef winner: Although the average age of all winners is 45, the average among female winners is much higher — at roughly 52 years for the four women who have been named Outstanding Chefs by James Beard.

Charts by Aidan Feay
Photo by Kent Miller/courtesy the James Beard Foundation

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