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James Beard Awards 2016: What This Year’s Results Say About Our Predictions

The data didn't lie

James Beard Awards reception
James Beard Awards reception
Daniel Gerzina/Eater Chicago

Last week, Eater made predictions and endorsements on who we thought should win and would win the 2016 James Beard Awards. The predictions were based on months of data collection and analysis of former James Beard Award winners, which led to a list of various characteristics that many finalists, winners, and losers appeared to have in common (including gender, restaurant location, and number of past nominations). We then used that data to calculate the odds of this year's finalists winning their respective categories, and predicted the chefs with the highest odds would take home the medal.

On awards night, however, it turned out that only two of our 12 data-based predictions panned out. Seems disappointing, but after returning to the data and comparing it to the ultimate group of winners, we realized that this year’s winners, while not the ones we chose, still highlighted several of our analyses about how Beard works.

Of the chefs who took home awards, seven out of 12 of them scored as top two contenders in their categories. Six of those were among the 10 regional chefs. Only three 2016 winners were among the lowest scoring in their categories (Zak Pelaccio, the team of John Shook and Vinny Dotolo, and Daniela Soto-Innes). Essentially, our data was more effective at giving insight into who didn’t stand a chance versus the top contenders, rather than who would be definite winners.

This means that some, but certainly not all, of our factors were accurate. Here's a list of the trends that this year’s winners pretty much confirmed, followed by a few of the factors that were not as strong this year. Generally speaking, each of the factors can play a role in the outcome of the awards, but by how much can vary from year to year. What is certain is that JBF awards are not completely random, they sometimes point to cultural or systemic trends.

Four data facts about the JBFA this year's chef awards proved:

· Women have tough odds to beat: In the non-pastry and baking chef categories, female nominees were represented in seven categories, but only three women ultimately won (only one of them, Renee Erickson, for regional Best Chef).

· Last year matters: All but three winners (Aaron Silverman, Zak Pelaccio, and Daniela Soto-Innes) were nominated last year.

· Couples also have tough odds: One of the six teams nominated won.

· The eighth time's the charm: Suzanne Goin showed that no chef can be nominated for Outstanding Chef at the same restaurants more than seven times without winning. Alfred Portale was nominated six times before winning and Tom Colicchio was nominated seven times for two restaurants before winning. Nobu Matsuhisa has been nominated nine times, but for several different restaurants.

Not-so-strong factors:

· The number of times nominated (as long as it's more than once).

· Region and city. Some areas produce more winners than others, but this year finally saw more diversity. Perhaps in future years, factors like gender will start to have less impact as well.

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