2018 James Beard Awards: The rise of women and diversity


The 2018 James Beard Awards had a more inclusive feel to the annual chef gala. With the theme, “I rise” the culinary world embraced a cultural change. This year’s winners proved that sense of inclusion.

Each year the James Beard Awards celebrate the best and brightest in the culinary industry. From exceptional chefs to impressive restaurants, the culinary world comes together to celebrate their industry. At this year’s food award celebration, the theme of “I rise” encouraged a change to the culinary culture.

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This year has been a watershed moment for the culinary industry. The #MeToo movement revealed that the professional kitchen had its own issues with equal treatment. Instead of being the overlooked or accepted, the culinary world was ready to implement change.

As James Beard nominations were requested, the James Beard Foundation sent an email to judges regarding the current culinary industry climate. The judges were encouraged to take into consideration “any concerns” about a chef when selecting nominees.

This year’s group of James Beard nominees were by far the biggest representation of women chefs. Also, there was a significant nod to diversity in the group of nominees. Overall, this year’s awards seem to show that the culinary industry is looking and embracing change. The old-school ways might soon be on the way out.

Looking at this year’s award winners, “11 of the 15 awards went to women, people of color or both.” That number is a significant statement from the culinary world. No longer do these talented culinary geniuses need qualifications of “best woman” or “best African-America.” They are simply the best.

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For example, Dominique Crenn finally received her James Beard moment. After numerous nominations, she was named Best Chef of the West. Her acceptance speech was simple yet powerful. As one of the more influential chefs, it was about time that her achievements were honored.

Another highlight of the ceremony was Chef Eduardo Jordan’s recognition as Best New Restaurant for JuneBaby and Best Chef: Northwest for Salare. Jordan’s award was the first time an African-American chef won in the Best New Restaurant category.

While this year’s award ceremony embodied the idea of “I rise,” the sentiment shouldn’t end when the chefs ditch the formal wear for the chef coat. The concept, the purpose and the idea of inclusion needs to be better represented. From the kitchen to the front of the house, everyone should be respected and treated appropriately.

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Granted a system and a culture cannot and will not change overnight. Still, the culinary world seems to be addressing the issues and embracing the changes. Hopefully, this year’s James Beard Awards are just the start of changes to come.