It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Facing a litany of accusations and dissatisfaction with the 2020 process that called for a more inclusive and transparent process in awarding the acclaimed James Beard Award to the nation’s best restaurants and chefs, the 2022 awards features a much more diverse group of winners.
The foundation’s efforts following its external audit bore a more diverse geographic and ethnic culinary mix throughout award categories. This includes Best New Restaurant Owanmi by The Sioux Chef, an indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota led by Chef Sean Sherman, Emerging Chef Edgar Rico at Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas, and Outstanding Restaurant Chai Pani, an Indian street food restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina.
After conducting an almost two-year audit, the James Beard Foundation expanded its regional awards as part of instituting new policies and procedures in its judging process and establishing a new code of ethics in response to allegations of a lack of diversity and neglecting chef’s bad behavior when no Black nominees took home awards in 2020.
“The James Beard Foundation heard calls from the restaurant community and the public for a more inclusive and transparent Awards process, and we felt it was critical to take time for self-reflection around who and where we are as an organization,” the foundation said in a statement. “We recognized our responsibility as industry leaders and began the process of reviewing all elements of the Awards program, and making comprehensive and meaningful changes.”
In turn, winners acknowledged the power of taking home a 2022 James Beard Award.
“Restaurants are so much greater than the sum of what’s inside the four walls. A restaurant has the power to transform — transform the people that work there, transform the people that come in, transform the communities we’re in, transform society. Restaurants can transform the world,” Meherwan Irani, chef and founder of Chai Pani, said upon receiving the award.
The awards were established over 30 years ago to bring light to how food plays a central role in establishing communal bonds and bringing culture to local people. In 2020, as the country dealt with a pandemic that devastated the industry and broader food systems, the James Beard Awards worked to respond to the “social uprisings that laid bare existing racial injustice and inequities in the industry and beyond.”
In response, the awards went on partial pause in 2020 and remained absent in 2021, while the foundation refocused itself in response to an altered landscape. It’s no surprise that there was palpable excitement in once again rolling out the red carpet (and swanky styles) on June 11 in Chicago, the first live presentation since 2019.
“This is showing that we can get through that, that we’re still here. Our people are here, our ancestors are proud tonight because we’re doing something different. We’re putting health on the table, we’re putting culture on the table and we’re putting our stories on the table,” Owanmi’s Sherman said after accepting the award.
In delivering myriad tastes made from an assortment of fresh ingredients, chefs assert that not only do these award-winning restaurants and chefs provide clientele with world-class food, but inspire the next generation of foodies and food makers.
“Black and Brown folks, immigrants, mom-and-pop shops have been bubbling underneath the surface of this industry, working hard for a long time establishing our place in American food. I stand on the backs of many of them and today a little Black girl or a little Black boy can see themselves as a future Outstanding Chef,” Outstanding Chef Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah, Georgia said in her award speech.
You can find the full list of winners on the James Beard Foundation’s website.