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A Message from the Chair of the Awards Committee

Chef Anne Quatrano on the James Beard Awards Process

Anne Quatrano

May 04, 2018

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James Beard Award Medallion

Like many of you, over the last year I have been terribly upset to read the reporting on sexual harassment allegations against chefs across the country. Many of these chefs are longtime professional colleagues, many I looked up to, and a few have been James Beard Award winners. Despite the surprising details of the stories that have come to light, I don’t think any of us were surprised to learn that our industry has a serious sexual harassment problem—not if we are truly honest with ourselves. 

As a restaurateur and chef, I took the opportunity to talk with my staff, to revisit our HR policies, and to make sure we are doing everything we can to maintain a zero-tolerance culture. As a trustee of the James Beard Foundation and the chair of our Awards committee, I felt a tremendous responsibility to react in some way, but I knew that our response needed to be measured and carefully considered. 

The James Beard Awards are and have always been administered separately from other JBF programs to minimize any possibility of favoritism or quid pro quo for chefs and restaurateurs who participate in the Foundation’s fundraising and events. Our awards committees and judging panels are comprised of volunteer journalists, editors, producers, and other professionals in related industries, as well as previous winners. The Foundation’s staff and trustees don’t vote or in any way influence who can be nominated for or win a James Beard Award. 

The first step was taken by the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee, who, with the support of the Foundation’s staff and trustees, crafted some guidance for their judges to consider the totality of what they know about any candidates when they vote—not just the quality of their food, but the quality of their leadership. We all acknowledged that the halo of a Beard Award extends beyond the plate. Beard Award winners become de facto leaders in our industry, people who are looked up to, inspire others, set standards, and serve as role models. This same guidance was then distributed to judges in other JBF Award categories.

Next we needed to figure out what to do about award winners who have been accused of wrongdoing. The voting body of the James Beard Awards, which is made up of more than 600 judges from around the country and includes past JBF Award winners, plays a meaningful role in shaping the future of our industry by selecting annual winners. Therefore, on January 30, 2018, the James Beard Awards committee, again with the support of the Foundation’s trustees and with consultation of legal experts versed in such matters, decided to indefinitely suspend the voting privileges of select past Award winners who have been accused of harassment or misconduct in the workplace. After serious and thorough consideration, these bodies came to the conclusion that the best way to move forward was not to focus on the past, but rather to focus on the future.
 
As we move forward with the 2018 James Beard Awards, it is with the knowledge that the medallions placed around the necks of chefs and restaurateurs, as well as writers, broadcasters, authors, and designers, convey a validation of the expertise and leadership James Beard Awards winners have in our culinary community, and the responsibility to help ensure that, with these Awards , we help move the industry forward.   
 
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Note: As a member of the James Beard Foundation Board of Trustees, Anne Quatrano is precluded from participating in the Awards voting process.
 
Learn more about the James Beard Foundation's Women's Leadership Programs.