Gourmet Table: The James Beard Awards

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What are the James Beard Awards?
Founded after celebrated American Chef and TV personality, James Beard, the annual James Beard Foundation Awards honor the finest culinary professionals in North America. Spanning all aspects of the industry, the James Beard Awards are given during the awards presentation ceremony on the first Monday in May at the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in NYC. During the ceremony, the James Beard Foundation awards a winner of each category- Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Chef, Rising Star Chef of the Year, Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Pastry Chef, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wines and Spirits Professional, Outstanding Wine Program, Outstanding Bar Program, Best Chefs (for each of the 10 regions) and Outstanding Restaurant. The awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and continue to emphasize the Foundation’s mission: to celebrate, preserve, and nurture America’s culinary heritage and diversity.

How do restaurants qualify for consideration?
In order to be considered as a possible candidate for the James Beard Awards Outstanding Restaurant, restaurants must adhere to a certain criteria. A restaurant has to be in the United States as a national standard bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service, and must be in operation for 10 or more consecutive years. If a restaurant passes that benchmark, the restaurant may then be nominated during the online open call-to-entry beginning in mid-October, with no entry fee.

Who gets to judge?
Each award category has an individual Awards Committee made up of industry professionals volunteering their time to direct the policies, procedures, and selection of judges for their respective programs. These committee members serve staggered terms of one to three years and are ineligible to participate in competition while serving on the committees.

How do they pick the winners?
Once a restaurant is entered in the system, the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee produces a ballot with approximately 20 semifinalists, announced in mid-February. The ballot is then distributed online to a voting group of over 300 previous James Beard Restaurant and Chef Award winners, 250 panelists divided evenly among 10 regions, and 17 members of the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee. The 10 regions include: The Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New York, Northeast, Northwest, Pacific, South, Southeast, and Southwest. The 5 semi-finalists with the highest number of votes are announced in March and become the finalist nominees. A second ballot is then distributed to the same voting group. The independent accounting firm Lutz & Carr handles the tabulation of the Award and the results are kept confidential until the awards presentation ceremony.

What's the prize?
At the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala, the recipient is announced and is given a bronze medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia and an official James Beard Foundation certificate. 

Who won last year?
Last year’s James Beard Foundation Awards Outstanding Restaurant Winner was Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Run by head chef Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park boasts a unique dining experience as guests are given a grid of 16 ingredients, of which the staff designs a meal based on the selected preferences.

So...Who won this year?
The award for Best Chef Pacific was given to Matt Molina, and the Outstanding Restaurant award was given to Boulevard in San Francisco. Among the honorees, Wolfgang Puck was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.



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