Today the James Beard Foundation revealed its “long list” of semifinalists for its annual awards, considered among the highest honors in the American restaurant world. As the food world is navigating how to reckon with the #MeToo moment, the Foundation seems to have taken its first steps.
In January, the Foundation asked its voting committee to consider behavior when making suggestions: “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,” read a directive sent to judges. Though the Foundation’s website does not spell out a specific policy around this, the New York Times reports today that “past winners who have faced public charges of sexual harassment or abuse have been barred from voting from now on.”
And it seems that the semifinalist list reflects a newly articulated focus on “transparency, diversity, sustainability, and equality.”
The most notable absence is chef April Bloomfield’s and restaurateur Ken Friedman’s pioneering New York City gastropub the Spotted Pig, which has been a finalist for Outstanding Restaurant the past three years: 2015, 2016, and 2017. (The restaurant opened in 2004; and a restaurant must be 10 years old before it can be nominated for the category.)
In November, the New York Times published a devastating expose about the restaurant group’s toxic culture, including Friedman’s alleged sexual misconduct, and Bloomfield’s reported tolerance for Friedman’s behavior. (The third floor of the Spotted Pig was reportedly known as the “rape room.”)
Neither Bloomfield nor Friedman are up for any personal nominations, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect any new approach. Friedman won Outstanding Restaurateur in 2016; Bloomfield took home the medal for Best Chef: New York City in 2014.
It’s worth noting that Jillian Bartolome, the pastry chef at Paul Qui’s new Houston restaurant Aqui, made the long list, while that restaurant itself was not nominated in any other categories. Qui, who is awaiting trial on domestic violence charges, recently received a rave review from the Houston Chronicle for the restaurant, netting a perfect four-star score. Qui is a 2012 Best Chef: Southwest winner.
The Major Food Group’s widely hailed revamp of the Four Seasons, the Grill, didn’t make the long list for Best New Restaurant. However, Stephanie Prida of MFG’s the Pool (in the same building as the Grill) landed a nod for Ouststanding Pastry Chef. As of right now, there are no published allegations of misconduct against the group.
Note: Eater’s national critic Bill Addison is on the James Beard restaurant and chef awards committee but is recused from covering the Beards.