This was supposed to be a historic year for Texas at the James Beard Foundation Awards. After years of sharing a category with mountain and Southwestern states, the Lone Star State was given its own regional category for best chef.
Chefs Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie and Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye were named finalists for the inaugural award earlier this year. But a lot has changed since then, and with restaurants either struggling or closing across the country, and the Foundation decided this was not the year to be handing out awards and celebrating.
The country’s preeminent food organization today announced that it would not name winners in a host of restaurant and chef categories, including the regional ones like Texas. Instead, the ceremony slated for September 25 will focus on a path forward for the beleaguered restaurant industry and spotlight previously announced honorees and nominees. This year will mark the first time in the awards’ 30-year history that best chef winners will not be named,
"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 Beard Foundation said in a release. "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. These factors helped to inform the decision not to assign winners during a time of such turmoil."
The ceremony in September will be broadcast on Twitter and will still highlight America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards, while taking the opportunity to tell the stories about this historically challenging moment.
"We did not come to this decision lightly," James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said. "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."
This year won’t be the only effected. Given that awards recognize restaurant and chef achievement from the previous year, the Foundation also announced that it will forego it traditional awards next year, as well, as judging 2020 work would be "unfair and misguided" given "the unprecedented hardships which restaurants and potential nominees faced this year."
Next year’s slated ceremony will instead focus on the leadership displayed during this historic crisis. Beyond next year, the Foundation says it will "take this time to continue the analysis of Awards-related programs with the goal of a transparent and equitable process in 2022 and beyond."
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