The James Beard Foundation will not name winners at this year’s awards ceremony

Local nominees weighed in on the decision.

Irene Li
Irene Li at Mei Mei. –Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

With the restaurant industry in peril due to the coronavirus pandemic, the James Beard Foundation announced Thursday morning that it will not name winners at the 202o James Beard Awards ceremony scheduled for September 25. Instead, it will celebrate previously announced honorees and nominees.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a press release. “The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do. In short, an honor which we know is held in high regard, at the moment, feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in. As we strive to provide an awards program with the highest ethical standards, one that is fair, equitable, and reflective of the industry which we serve, we know that the right move is to step back and take stock of the nominees’ and honorees’ achievements. We hope to focus our collective energy on helping our community get through this crisis and on addressing the inequities in the industry going forward. We look forward to bringing the awards back when the industry is once again ready for them.”

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The decision is a first in the foundation’s 30-year-old history.

In May, the foundation announced its list of 2020 nominees, highlighting chefs and restaurants in categories like Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Chef. A handful of local chefs received nominations, with some expressing their support Thursday for the foundation’s decision.

Irene Li, chef and owner at Mei Mei, was nominated as a Rising Star Chef of the Year.

“I was really glad to hear JBF make this decision,” Li told Boston.com. “There’s a tough line between ‘it would be nice to have something to celebrate’ and ‘it’s just tone deaf to choose winners and losers right now,’ and I think they made the right call. I’m optimistic that JBF will take this time to address some of their longstanding policies and other norms that uphold inequalities in our very unequal industry.”

JK Food Group‘s Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer, who were nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur, echoed that sentiment.

“I am really proud of the Beard Foundation for putting the fanfare aside and placing the restaurants and the people who work in them first,” Bissonnette shared. “The Foundation is out there raising funds and awareness to help us keep our doors open through this unprecedented time, it’s incredible.”

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“The awards are great, but what we need now is to survive, and when we need them most, they’re here for us,” Oringer agreed. “That’s what independent restaurants are all about — supporting the community around them, and no one does that better than the Beard Foundation.”

Other local 2020 nominees in categories that would have been announced in September include Fox & the Knife for Best New Restaurant, Tiffani Faison (Orfano) and Cassie Piuma (Sarma) for Best Chef Northeast, Maura Kilpatrick (Sofra Bakery & Cafe) for Outstanding Baker, and Ana Sortun (Oleana) for Outstanding Chef.

In addition to focusing on previously announced honorees in categories like America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards, the ceremony will center around the challenges facing the industry and strategies on rebuilding a more equitable community. Anyone interested in tuning in to the ceremony will be able to watch it live via Twitter (@beardfoundation) from Chicago on September 25.

The foundation also revealed it will not hold a traditional awards ceremony in 2021 since the awards recognize work from the previous year. According to the release, the foundation is also “conducting a comprehensive internal and external review to address any bias and align the Awards with the Foundation’s mission of promoting sustainability, equity, and diversity in the restaurant industry.”

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