Food Matters: JBF's Who's Who at NYU

Who's WhoYesterday, almost 25 years to the day after the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America was founded jointly by Cook’s and Restaurant Business magazines, our vice president, Mitchell Davis, participated in a panel at NYU Fales Library on the food world intelligentsia. (In 1990 the James Beard Foundation folded the Who’s Who into their annual awards program.) Organized and moderated by restaurant consultant and JBF Who’s Who member Clark Wolf (inducted in 2008), the panel addressed the changing role of elites in matters culinary. Wolf, who helped Cook’s publisher Christopher Kimball organize the Who’s Who group at its onset, asked panelists to describe how they think the food world has changed over the last 25 years. Davis, who completed his Ph.D. in NYU’s Food Studies department earlier this year, presented some of his research on restaurant critics, showing how even in this moment when everyone has an opinion about food and restaurants online, work done by folks like Craig Claiborne (1984) and James Beard (1984) set up the conversation about taste. Today, people such as the New York Times restaurant critic continue to shape that conversation. Bob Spitz, the official biographer of Julia Child (1984), noted that Julia’s success on television, the result of her personality and charisma, changed the game in food. In the past 25 years, disseminating information via television has become the way the majority of Americans learned about food, and more importantly, how to cook it. Marion Nestle (2003) noted the strong movement towards the serious academic study of food, such as at NYU’s Food Studies department, which she founded, as evidence that food has truly taken center stage. In discussing how his own food world has changed, Daniel Humm, the chef of Eleven Madison Park who was recently anointed with a fourth star from the New York Times, compared his stint at San Francisco’s Campton Place with his experience in New York. “I guess I always knew I wanted to make it in New York,” he said, “but if I had come here directly from Switzerland it would have been a disaster.” He pointed to the pressure of the media, the number of top restaurants, the calibre of the guests from around the world, and the sense that if you made it here, you really could make it anywhere. He also noted that four years into his position at Eleven Madison, he can honestly say Danny Meyer (1996) is as amazing as people think he is. Five more members of the Who’s Who will be inducted at next year’s JBF Awards ceremony on May 3. When determining new members, Barbara Haber (1997), chair of the Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who committee, tries to ascertain which people and whose opinions are going to stick. See a complete list of current members of the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.

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