Mashama Bailey of the Gray in Savannah, Georgia, was recognized as Outstanding Chef, and Owamni by the Sioux Chef in Minneapolis, owned by Executive Chef Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, was recognized as Best New Restaurant Monday night at the James Beard Foundation Awards.
The ceremony, hosted by Kwame Onwuachi, the Foundation’s 2019 Rising Star Chef, took place at the Lyric Opera of Chicago before an audience of around 1,800 and celebrated perhaps the most diverse group of nominees and winners to date.
“Today, a little black girl or little black boy can see themselves as a future outstanding chef,” said Ms. Bailey, who won the 2019 Best Chef: Southeast award, as she accepted her award on Monday. “They can see themselves in a space they have never seen before and do what they never thought possible. And until a few minutes ago, that was me.”
The awards have been suspended for the past two years due to concerns about finalist diversity, allegations against nominees and the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry. After the turmoil of 2020 and 2021, the foundation said it took steps to overhaul the nomination and evaluation systems to make them more transparent.
Chai Pani in Asheville, NC was recognized as a restaurant of excellence. Chris Bianco of Tratto, Pane Bianco and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix was recognized as Outstanding Restaurateur.
The Emerging Chef Award went to Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas.
There are 12 regional awards for best chefs: Chintan Pandya by Dhamaka and by Unapologetic Foods won Best Chef: New York State. Brandon Jew from Mister Jius in San Francisco won Best Chef: California.
Warda Bouguettaya of Warda Pâtisserie in Detroit was recognized as Outstanding Pastry Chef, while Don Guerra of Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona received Outstanding Baker Award.
The Four Horsemen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was recognized for its outstanding wine program and the Julep in Houston for its outstanding bar program. Cúrate in Asheville, NC received the Outstanding Hospitality Award.
Controversy and power struggles have rocked the awards over the past two years. In August 2020, the foundation made the unusual decision not to name any James Beard winners for this year, apart from a few that had already been announced. It was later reported that some of the nominated chefs faced allegations of workplace misconduct, although the exact nature of those allegations was not made public.
Foundation officials, who are separate from the nominating and voting committees, also expressed concerns that no blacks had won in any of the 23 award categories. “The message got through that they knew who the winners were, and the winners didn’t look the way they wanted,” a committee member told The New York Times in 2020.
The 20-member restaurant awards committee urged the foundation to acknowledge that a list of winners had indeed been reached, which Clare Reichenbach, executive director of the James Beard Foundation, disputed. “There was no final vote on the winners,” she said. The foundation also announced at the time that no prizes would be awarded in 2021, particularly because of the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry.
In 2021, the foundation also added a requirement that, in addition to culinary excellence, winners must demonstrate a “commitment to racial and gender justice, community, environmental sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”
At Monday’s awards ceremony, Ms. Reichenbach said: “As we recognize outstanding food and beverage professionals tonight, we are also honoring our entire industry and the incredible resilience, steadfastness, talent and leadership that so many have shown over the past two years .”
Grace Young was named Humanitarian of the Year for her support of Chinatowns across America. Martin Yan received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
American Classics Awards winners included Wo Hop, a Huang family restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown that opened in 1938, and Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee.
The restaurant and chef awards were established in 1990 and first presented in 1991 in New York. The ceremonies were moved to Chicago in 2015.
The media and cookbook awards were presented on Saturday The Leadership Awards, which honor social initiatives in the food world, followed on Sunday.
Visit jamesbeard.org for the full list of awards.