After a two-year hiatus, the James Beard Awards returned to Chicago this weekend. Leaders of the culinary world-from food journalists and sustainability activists to chefs and restaurateurs-gathered together to accept the shiny silver medals that stand for one of the nation’s most prestigious honours.
In 2020 and 2021, the James Beard Foundation decided to forego its traditional awards format in order to take some time to think about how to enact more equitable procedures, such as removing systemic bias and increasing the diversity of the pool of candidates. This year’s awards ceremony was the first since the audit, and it reflected some progressive changes, like the expansion of an Emerging Voice category across all awards programs.
“The room alone showed that the organization is making steps in the right direction-the diverse crowd, the nominees,” says Tiffany Derry of Roots Southern Table, host of the Media Awards, and nominee for Best Chef and Best New Restaurant. “Oftentimes, there are awards where certain people seem to always be the minority. And for this occasion, it felt great to see so many styles of books, cuisines, and personalities at that.”
Despite the cacophony of tornado warning alerts that went off at the Restaurant and Chef Awards, the event truly embodied the weekend’s theme of “Gather for Good.” Cheers were shouted. Tears were shed. It became clear that everyone was delighted to be under the same roof again.
James Beard Media Award Winners
The Media Awards Ceremony, which is historically held in New York City, took place for the first time in Chicago, on the campus of Columbia College. Lisa Ling, award-winning journalist and host of Take Out on HBO Max, announced the winners at the live ceremony on Saturday, June 11.
“The most rewarding aspect was writing stories about people who I did not see reflected in traditional media,” says author Hawa Hassan, who we caught up with at the post-awards reception. Her cookbook, In Bibi’sKitchen, won the International award. “I did it so selfishly for myself and the people that look like me, so I’m really grateful, but this is just a bonus.” Hassan is currently working on her next book, which is based on civil war and food.
There was also a category for Social Media Account, within the Broadcast and Media portion. Foraging extraordinaire Alexis Nikole Nelson claimed the medal, hilariously ending her acceptance speech with “Happy snacking. Don’t die.”
“When someone tells me that they themselves, or a daughter, a son-who maybe otherwise would not have felt validated in their love of the outdoors-now feels validated, and I got to play a part in that? I could fly home on that feeling,” Nelson says, adding that she also has a cookbook in the works, which will focus on foraging through the seasons.
As for Visual Media, Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation won the Long Form category. In an emotional speech, Lakshmi said, “I always loved food, but I came to this career later than most. And I always felt like the first two seasons of Top Chef…people were like, ‘Why are you here?’…I had a lot of imposter syndrome, sitting next to Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud… I knew I knew about food, but I didn’t know how to harness everything I knew until I became a writer.”
A few notable journalists who took home awards for their excellence in reporting include Soleil Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle, José R. Ralat of Texas Monthly, Francis Lam of Condé Nast Traveler, and Tammie Teclemariam of New York Magazine.
James Beard Leadership Award Winners
The Leadership Awards, hosted by activist and author Bryant Terry, took the form of a luncheon at the Dalcy in Chicago’s Fulton Market District on Sunday, June 12. This ceremony seeks to celebrate the visionaries responsible for creating a healthier, safer, more equitable, and sustainable food system.
Jenabi Pareja, cook and worker leader at Understory, tells us the worker-owned restaurant-bar is “re-imagining what non-traditional restaurants can really be, and what it truly means to take care of your people.” Diana Wu, Oakland Bloom representative, adds “I hope that this win will help us gain the visibility and recognition to move things to the next stage.”
James Beard Restaurant and Chef Award Winners
And then it came time for the tuxedo-style main event. On Monday, June 13, chefs and restaurateurs walked the red carpet at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, joining together for the Restaurant and Chef Awards hosted by chef, author, and executive producer at Food & Wine Kwame Onwuachi.
After some references to the Chris Rock slap and jokes about Zoom calls, Onwuachi began by announcing the winner of the Emerging Chef award: Edgar Rico of Nixta in Austin. Detroit’s Warda Bouguettaya took home the medal for Outstanding Pastry Chef, while Julep (a Thrillist Shift Change honoree) received Houston’s first-ever James Beard award in a national category-Outstanding Bar Program.
The Regional awards were next. After winning an award for his cookbook, Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown, on Saturday, Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco took home the award for Best Chef: California. After his win, Jew tells us, “There’s now another platform that comes with responsibility. And for me, it’s leaning in to advocating for Chinatown, carrying Grace [Young] and Martin’s [Yan] work.”
On the other coast, Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka in New York City accepted his award, Best Chef: New York State, with great energy, taking selfies on stage. According to Pandya, this win “should give people the confidence to be unapologetic about their cuisine.”
When asked about the most rewarding aspect of her career as a chef thus far, Martinez answers through translation, “creating opportunities in the kitchen for people from Latin America that didn’t have the same opportunities I did.”After honouring Grace Young as Humanitarian of the Year and Martin Yan for a Lifetime Achievement Award, the night culminated with the heavy hitters. Minneapolis’s Owamni took home Best New Restaurant.
“We prioritize purchasing from Indigenous producers first,” says Owamni chef/owner Sean Sherman, who also founded The Sioux Chef. “We removed all colonial ingredients, so there’s no dairy, no flour, no sugar. We’re showcasing regional, modern Indigenous foods.”
Mashama Bailey, executive chef at The Grey in Savannah, was awarded Outstanding Chef. Bailey attributes this win to her staff, who continue to believe in her vision “even when it’s kooky.” “No one knew it was going to work out. I had to fight just to make sure that I was on the plate,” she says. “That’s the rewarding part-actually trusting and believing in myself, developing my staff to help me achieve that, and seeing it come back to me in spades.”
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.