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California and Texas Will Get Their Own Categories at the James Beard Awards

The new Best Chef categories will go into effect for the 2020 awards

The James Beard award medal, cast in bronze, with the likeness of James Beard surrounded with the words “James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence” against a black background. Getty/Victor Spinelli/WireImage
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

The James Beard Foundation has announced some changes for its Best Chef categories that will go into effect for the 2020 James Beard Awards. Next year’s awards will feature a Best Chef: California and a Best Chef: Texas. In a press release, the Foundation says the changes were made “to recognize changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends.”

The new Texas award is particularly impactful, as too often Texas has been snubbed entirely by the Awards despite being home to multiple food hubs like Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. With California out of the Best Chef: West category, the Foundation has combined the remaining “West” states with the Pacific Northwest states, creating one category “Northwest and Pacific,” consisting of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, which is... a pretty weird mix of states, honestly, and will likely not solve for Hawaii’s routine shut out from the awards despite its overabundance of culinary talent. Just as it will be interesting to see if chefs working anywhere besides San Francisco and LA will make it into the California category, it will be ~ something ~ to see whether the West and Pacific Category is just chefs from Portland and Seattle.

Other shuffles: The newly dubbed “Mountain” category will comprise Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming; the Southwest category will comprise Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada; Best Chef: New York City is gone, and instead there will be a Best Chef: New York State, so good luck to anyone not from the five boroughs there. Remaining unshuffled is the Great Lakes category, so there’s still a chance that for yet another year Chicago will sweep that region entirely. All told, changes mean there are now 12, as opposed to 10, Best Chef regional categories.

Per the press release: “Changes to both the subcommittee that oversees the Restaurant and Chef awards, which has seats assigned to each region, and the voting body of judges have been made accordingly.” There will also be an additional America’s Classics honoree, upping the total from five honorees to six.

Whether these changes will ultimately address key issues that have plagued restaurant awards broadly, like a lack of representation of women, chefs of color, and chefs working outside the fine-dining sphere remains to be seen.