The James Beard Awards, among the highest honors in the American restaurant industry, are happening soon — Monday, to be precise. Maybe you’ve seen headlines about finalists — and finalists being disqualified. Maybe your favorite local spot is up for an award, maybe you’re pissed it’s not. Whether you’re a longtime follower of the awards or planning on watching for the first time, I’ve got you. Here’s everything you need to know.
When and where are the James Beard Awards taking place?
The James Beard Foundation will name the chef and restaurant winners at a gala ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, June 5. After years of hosting the events in New York City, where the Foundation is headquartered, it moved the marquee event to Chicago in 2015. Chicago beat out San Francisco and New Orleans to win hosting privileges, which it will keep until at least 2027. The festivities and the livestream is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. CT (that’s 6:30 if you’re on East Coast time, 3:30 for the West Coast) with festivities kicking off at 6:00 p.m. CT. The Media Awards will take place at a separate event on Saturday, June 3.
Why is there so much drama this year?
The TL;DR is that there’s drama because the Foundation created a process to “vet” nominees accused of bad behavior, in place since 2022 following a massive audit, but the process is (unsurprisingly) flawed and plenty of people are pissed about it. This year, one chef, Timothy Hontzas, was disqualified from winning the category he’s been nominated in (best chef: South), and in new reporting from the New York Times this week, another chef, Sam Fore (best chef: Southeast) revealed that she was investigated by the awards’ ethics committee and ultimately not disqualified. Because the investigations and their results are not public, participants in the awards program — other nominees, committee members and judges, as well as interested observers — wouldn’t necessarily know if other chefs have been disqualified, per the New York Times. At least two judges have quit over how the Hontzas situation was or was not communicated to them. The whole thing is just messy.
The Foundation’s implementation of a vetting process comes from criticism it has weathered since #MeToo allegations of sexual misconduct rocked the restaurant industry beginning in 2017, with extensive reporting on Beard Award winners John Besh, Mario Batali, and Johnny Iuzzini. The Foundation removed those men from the voting body (but did not take away or denounce their wins) and then began making policy changes to allow for a chef’s behavior to impact whether or not they would be eligible to win. For the 2018 and 2019 awards, the Foundation advised the restaurant and chef committee to consider chefs’ behavior when creating their semifinalist list. There were no awards in 2020 or 2021. The 2020 awards were marked by scandal: At first it seemed that the Foundation canceled them because of the pandemic; but then a New York Times investigation found that the Foundation also decided to cancel because there was not a single Black chef slated to win across the 23 categories. There had also been names withdrawn from consideration prior to the cancellation; the Foundation again lacked transparency. While some of the withdrawals were chef-initiated as the Foundation had indicated, New York Times reporting revealed that the Foundation had asked some to withdraw due to controversies that, according to that year’s rules of eligibility, could disqualify them from the awards. The Foundation then proactively canceled the 2021 awards, instead dedicating itself to an audit. That audit led to process and policy changes aimed to address entrenched biases, and create a way to receive and vet complaints (including anonymous complaints) about nominees, among other things.
The work is in no way done. And while I wouldn’t expect Foundation leadership to address these changes — or the challenges they’ve faced implementing change — it will be fascinating to see how they talk about it, if at all. Even if the Foundation doesn’t, I’d expect plenty of chefs and media observers will be talking about these issues on social media and in person at the event.
Are there any particularly notable nominees or categories?
Here are some things I have my eye on going into the awards:
- It’s pretty wild to see the outstanding restaurant category not include any restaurants from New York City, California, or Chicago. The Foundation’s efforts to create more geographic diversity definitely are on display in this category.
- Chefs and restaurants that focus on sushi have historically been overlooked by the Beard Awards — to the extent that, after a data analysis in 2015, Eater discovered Nobu was a Susan Lucci figure, having been nominated without winning more times than any chef at that point. This year there are a few nominees primarily known for sushi: Jesse Ito of Philly’s Royal Sushi (nominated for best chef: Mid-Atlantic); David Utterback of Omaha’s Yoshitomo (nominated for best chef: Midwest); Henry Moso of Orlando’s Kabooki Sushi (nominated for best chef: South). And in the outstanding chef category, Hajime Sato is nominated for his work at Sozai in Clawson, Michigan, which serves sushi as well as kappo-inspired composed plates. It’s worth noting explicitly here that Brandon Hayato Go of LA’s Hayato (nominated for best chef: California) and Niki Nakayama of LA’s N/Naka (nominated for outstanding chef) both operate kaiseki-inspired restaurants, not sushi restaurants.
- The emerging chef category, always a fun one (even in its prior incarnation as rising star chef) is especially exciting this year. There’s a strong pop-up story here that feels utterly current: Rashida Holmes of 2022 Eater Best New Restaurant Bridgetown Roti still operates the pop-up; Serigne Mbaye’s Dakar NOLA began as a pop-up, as did Amanda Shulman’s Her Place Supper Club. Rounded out with Damarr Brown from Virtue and Charlie Mitchell from Clover Hill, it’s a tight, thrilling cohort this year.
- It’s a subtle shift but the award for outstanding wine program is now called outstanding wine and other beverages program (emphasis mine). With that, I’d love to see Ototo in Los Angeles take the win for their expansive sake offerings, which would be a first for the awards.
It is my highly subjective but also correct opinion that Margarita Manzke is years overdue for the outstanding pastry chef win for her incredible work at République in Los Angeles. (This year there are not separate outstanding baker and outstanding pastry chef categories; rather it’s a combined category, outstanding pastry chef or baker). The restaurant, especially it’s pastry- and baking-fueled breakfast service, is a longtime favorite of Eater staffers, myself included, and I’m especially pleased to be able to tell you that the recipe for Manzke’s incredible baguette — along with the République shakshuka – is in our forthcoming cookbook, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters.
How can I watch?
For Eater’s real-time coverage of the festivities, head over to our Twitter feed. We’ll also be posting all the winners to the site as they’re announced and will drop that link here at the beginning of the ceremony.
This year, the Beard Foundation has partnered with Eater to host the livestream; head here starting at 5:30 CT.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards. Eater is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to livestream the awards in 2023. All editorial content, including this post, is produced independently of the James Beard Foundation.