Last month, in the wake of explosive reports alleging that prominent, James Beard Award-winning restaurant industry figures like Mario Batali and John Besh have harassed multiple women, the James Beard Foundation said it was “evaluating” its policies.
It appears some of those promised, unspecified changes have started to take shape. Members of the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee, responsible for creating the semifinalist list from the thousands of entries the Foundation receives, sent out the following message to judges over the past few days:
As we get down to the business of this year's Beard nominations, I wanted to take a moment to address some of the issues that are top of mind for me, likely for you, and definitely for the Restaurant and Chef committee this year. As allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the food industry continue to surface, it makes our task more complex and reframes our actions, past and present.
The foundation administers the country’s most visible honors for the industry. Our choices in this moment are vitally important. This isn’t about optics, or about distancing ourselves from the accused. This is about taking meaningful steps forward to end a culture of silence and complicity that has allowed this behavior to proliferate. That time is over. At our meeting next month, the committee will be discussing how to establish and uphold heightened expectations of conduct — and that starts now, with the nominations process.
The Restaurant & Chef awards honor professionals who serve as industry leaders. More than ever, we are thinking about respect and integrity when making recommendations for the semifinalists. As judges we ask you to do the same. When considering the candidacy of a person or restaurant, bear in mind that award winners are held up as role models. If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations. If you’re inclined, send a note that expounds on any obvious omissions.
With that in mind, I would love your input as we refine our 2018 lists. If you’ve already submitted nomination ideas via the Call to Entries, it’s much appreciated. But it’s even better for us to communicate with you directly, so that we can best represent your interests at our January meeting.
To win a James Beard Award is considered among the highest honors in the American restaurant industry. Previous winners are added to the voting body, which elects finalists from a committee-vetted long-list and also elects winners. Semifinalists for the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards will be announced on February 15, and nominees on March 14. The James Beard Awards Gala will take place on May 7.
Eater has reached out to learn whether any other policy changes have been enacted.
Note: Eater’s national critic Bill Addison is on the James Beard restaurant and chef awards committee but is recused from covering the Beards.