There will be no James Beard Awards handed out to outstanding chefs and restaurants this year. After first committing to a virtual ceremony last month, instead of the usual Chicago awards gala, the James Beard Foundation announced today that it will not announce 2020 winners, which would have been chosen from the already-announced list of chef and restaurant awards finalists. In a press release, the Foundation explained its reasoning:
“The choice comes as restaurants continue to suffer the grave negative effects of COVID-19, and as substantial and sustained upheaval in the community has created an environment in which the Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle. The Awards’ usual positive impact on restaurants and chefs’ businesses will likely not be fully realized due to the current state of the industry, with many restaurants closed permanently or temporarily or operating at minimal capacity.”
There will still be an online event on September 25, but rather than announcing new winners, it will honor the winners in categories that were announced previously, including the America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards. The upcoming broadcast will also address the struggles the industry has faced over the past five months and ways to build a more equitable restaurant industry going forward. Winners of the 2020 Media Awards were announced, in a delayed online-only virtual event, on May 27.
In another huge announcement, the Foundation will also forgo its 2021 awards, which would have recognized the work of restaurants and chefs in 2020. Such a ceremony “would be unfair and misguided, taking into account the unprecedented hardships which restaurants and potential nominees faced this year,” the press release reads. Instead, a May 2021 event, tentatively planned for an in-person ceremony in Chicago, will celebrate members of the restaurant community who have emerged as leaders and positively impacted their communities during the coronavirus crisis.
The announcement comes just a few days after California chef David Kinch, nominated for a JBA this year in the Outstanding Chef category for his work at Manresa, said he would withdraw his name from awards consideration, writing in an Instagram post that it “simply does not feel right in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, and the devastation it has pressed upon our chosen métier and industry.”
The Foundation seemingly agrees, but is already begun planning for a return to a more traditional awards format in 2022. According to the press release, JBF is working with an outside social justice agency to remove bias in its policies and procedures and increase the diversity of its candidate pool. Perhaps, 2022 will bring an answer to the question of whether ethical restaurant awards are actually possible.