No More Winners for the James Beard Awards, for Now

The James Beard Foundation, which honors outstanding American chefs, restaurants and bars each year in a gala ceremony, said Thursday that it would not announce any more winners for its awards in 2020 and 2021, citing the pandemic that has closed restaurants and continues to ravage the economy.

The foundation had already released its list of finalists for the 2020 chef and restaurant awards, and announced winners of its media awards, earlier this year. Now, in a virtual ceremony broadcast live via Twitter on Sept. 25, the foundation will celebrate previously announced honorees in categories such as America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian of the Year.

No awards will be presented in 2021, either; the organization, which is based in New York City, said it would be unfair because of the hardships restaurants face.

The foundation’s chief executive, Clare Reichenbach, said in a statement that the awards would return, but that the honor “feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in.”

“The Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle,” the statement read. “The Awards’ usual positive impact on restaurants and chefs’ businesses will likely not be fully realized due to the current state of the industry.”

For decades, the Beard awards have been considered the Oscars of the food industry. But as more restaurants close, and bars and restaurants are identified as a focal point for clusters of infections, the future of the industry is precarious. Conversations about racial justice have inspired calls for change in the food industry and sowed doubts about the lionization of powerful chefs; the foundation said it would conduct a review to examine and address bias in its selections of candidates and winners.

Questions have been raised for years about the fairness and validity of various restaurant honors, and they have only increased during the pandemic. Eater NY reported last week that the Michelin Guides had resumed its inspections of New York City restaurants, a move that drew ire on social media.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be fair or not, because some restaurants do delivery and some restaurants can’t do anything,” Ellia Park, an owner of the Korean restaurants Atoboy and Atomix, which has two Michelin stars, told the website.

On Monday, David Kinch, the chef of the acclaimed restaurant Manresa, in Los Gatos, Calif., withdrew his name from consideration for the Beard awards.

“The idea of celebrating achievement — and all that our @Manresarestaurant team has accomplished — simply does not feel right in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, and the devastation it has pressed upon our chosen métier and industry,” he wrote on Instagram.

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