Today it was announced that Clare Reichenbach will be the new chief executive officer of the James Beard Foundation, starting on February 20. Reichenbach, who most recently helmed a consulting business with clients that included New York Public Radio and NBC Universal, is a former executive vice president of strategy and development at BBC Worldwide and AMC Networks. We caught up with her just before the announcement to talk about her immediate plans, her connection to food, and which American culinary hubs she’s looking forward to visiting.
What are your priorities when you start at the Foundation next month?
It’s a real privilege to be joining an organization that’s in a position of such strength. [Previous president] Susan Ungaro and the talented team have done an amazing job diversifying and growing the Foundation, and now we’re really poised for the next exciting phase of growth. We have an opportunity to double down on the areas where the Foundation delivers the greatest impact and value, and I’m greatly looking forward to working with the team to shape our strategic plan.
While you don’t have a culinary background, you have said that being at the James Beard Foundation is your dream job. Can you tell us more about that?
That’s right. I don’t purport to be anything more than a deeply impassioned home cook, but food and cooking mean a great deal to me; I am never happier than when cooking for my family and friends. It truly feeds my heart and soul.
Throughout my career I have operated at the fulcrum of ‘commercial’ and ‘mission,’ most notably at the BBC. The reconciliation of doing good business for good causes really matters to me, and the values espoused by the Foundation resonate well with my personal values. The deepening role for the Foundation as an industry thought-leader and tastemaker is compelling.
The business challenge is also appealing to me. Deepening our commercial relationships and funding partnerships in order to amplify the Impact and Education programs is very motivating.
How does your past experience relate to heading up a nonprofit organization?
My background and experience are in business transformation, strategic partnerships, and brand marketing. These areas of expertise, I believe, will be important in delivering the next phase of growth and ambition for the organization. Fundraising is essentially an equation of matching what we’re offering to what our partners and members are looking for—whether it’s access to unique events and valuable audiences, or alignment with our priority causes. I’m looking forward to building on our development and sponsorship strategies to further the respective objectives of the Foundation and our key constituencies.
Equally, I’ll be looking to harness my media experience and network to grow the awareness of, and engagement with the JBF brand; especially with the next generation of culinary professionals and food lovers alike.
Many would say that the culinary industry is on the precipice of a cultural shift in light of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against prominent chefs and restaurateurs. What do you think the Foundation’s role should be?
The Foundation has been proactive in delivering initiatives that address the gender imbalance in the culinary industry, such as the Woman’s Leadership Programs, which provide very practical tools and guidance. These programs are more critical than ever. More recently, with the allegations of misconduct against members of the industry and revelations about the culture of restaurants, the Foundation has been actively consulting the industry to understand how we can best support the change needed. I am very motivated to build on the current programs, and to amplify the levels of involvement and impact.
As the James Beard Foundation continues to grow its national programming across the U.S., where are you most looking forward to traveling to (and eating in)?
There are so many exciting centers of food excellence and innovation here—we’re really spoiled for choice. I moved to New York City from London in 2009, and have made many of my own food pilgrimages to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and Miami, to name a few. But there are many cities, like New Orleans, Detroit, and Portland, Oregon, that I haven’t been to yet, but are firmly on my ‘to visit’ list.