The Biggest Change to the James Beard Foundation, According to Its CEO
2018 has been a year of transition for the James Beard Foundation. In addition to naming Clare Reichenbach the new CEO of the organization in February, this spring's James Beard Awards reflected some major shifts in the industry—including increased recognition of chefs who have historically been boxed-out of the awards circuit. For example: Seattle's JuneBaby, which was a F&W Best Restaurant of the Year 2018, was named Best New Restaurant, making its founding chef Eduardo Jordan the first African-American chef in the Awards' 28-year history to receive the honor. Additionally, a record number of women took home awards.
When she began, Reichenbach made a clear point of recognizing the pervasive issue of sexual misconduct and harassment in restaurant kitchens, noting that the foundation would attempt to "best support the change needed."
In a new interview with Marketplace, the CEO elaborated further on what this change should look like, and how new measures impacted this year's awards.
"At the beginning of the nomination process we introduced a new yardstick in terms of character and conduct," she said. "And you could really see that come to bear this year. So I think it’s about saying, 'Progress has been has been made. Let's not rest on our laurels. Let's make sure that we build on this.' But fundamentally it's about saying, 'What is the role for the foundation in terms of driving that systemic change to ensure that the culinary community and the restaurant industry is at its heart more inclusive and diverse and not just that the awards are reflective of that but it's actually materially shifting?'"
Not only does she intend to highlight industry leaders who are doing things right—and are doing right by their staffs—but also to make an active effort of "equipping women in a very pragmatic way." She cites women restaurant owners, not just women chefs, as important agents of change that the Foundation has an obligation to support.
Another important shift Reichenbach also mentioned is the organization's intensified focus on sustainability, particularly when it comes to seafood, as well as food waste reduction.