As Eater suggested they do back in June, the foundation is changing its stakeholders to ensure that its chef and restaurant awards are more reflective of the makeup of the actual restaurant industry. To accomplish this, moving forward, the committees of volunteer industry professionals that decide on award nominees will be at least as diverse as the population of the United States. Rather than remove committee members, the foundation will fill vacancies and expand committees to reflect Census Bureau statistics. The wider group of judges who vote on the nominees that the committees put forth will be similarly diverse.
The James Beard Foundation’s voting body is made up of over 300 James Beard award winners as well as 250 panelists selected by the volunteer committees, with an equal number of panelists representing each region. The 18 members of the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee also vote. “With the directive to diversify its voting pool, the committees must appoint judges who will help meet these goals,” explains Mitchell Davis, the chief strategy officer for the James Beard Foundation. “So [the effect of the new mandate] is two-fold: the committee itself will be more diverse and by nature but also by directive, the judges will also be more diverse.”
The idea is that with a more diverse group of committee members, the ballots themselves will “span a wider range of awards prospects and points of view,” Davis says. So far, there are just two new members on the 18-person Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee: editors Khushbu Shah and Joseph Hernandez.
The James Beard Foundation’s leadership and media awards are changing too. In an effort to attract new, diverse voices, the Times reports the foundation will waive the submission fee for first-time entrants in the journalism awards; at $150 per submission, many have criticized the fees as a high barrier for entry. Entry fees in the other categories, which include books, design, and broadcast, will also be waived for the first two weeks of the submission period starting October 15. Meanwhile, the leadership awards, which recognize work in food justice, sustainability, and public health, will include public voting and a $10,000 prize for the first time.
The #MeToo movement has also played a role in upcoming changes. Going forward, the foundation will stop adding to its Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. The list, in addition to being largely white and male, includes men who have since been accused of misconduct, like Mario Batali and John Besh. In advance of last year’s awards, the James Beard Foundation asked that judges include chef behavior when considering a person’s eligibility for an award. This rule is in effect once again, and the foundation has included additional time in the awards schedule for vetting nominees and winners.
The 2018 James Beard Awards featured some historic wins for gender and racial diversity — in the 16 major competitive categories where a person wins the award, 11 winners were women, people of color, or both. “We want to keep the momentum of last year’s awards moving forward, which we don’t want people to think for any reason was some kind of a fluke,” Anne Quatrano, chair of the awards committee, told the Times. “These are still merit-based awards.”
Last month, the international World’s 50 Best Restaurants organization announced its own modest proposal for more diverse restaurant awards. Come 2019, the restaurant world could have some very different winners. Stay tuned.
Note: Eater’s national critic Bill Addison is on the James Beard restaurant and chef awards committee but is recused from covering the Beards.