My beef with Beard

I realize I am a little late to the party with this blog, like a month late, but I’ve been considering it for some time. So, here’s my little rant about the 2014 James Beard Awards, with regards in particular to the chefs of New Orleans who won.

When the winners were announced a month ago, the first thing to come to mind was “What the f**k?” Why did I utter profanities? Why did my forehead wrinkle in confusion? Well, I’ll tell you. Why did the talented, seasoned and prodigious chef Sue Zemanick have to share the Best Chef: South award with Ryan Prewitt?

Now don’t get me wrong, as you all know I absolutely adore the Link Restaurant Group. My birthday lunch every year is at Herbsaint, I simply can’t get enough of the BLTs at Cochon Butcher and Peche is a fabulously delicious new addition to the group and Chef Ryan Prewitt is young, talented and deserving of recognition.

But … and this is a very big but … it seemed to me that Prewitt won the award as a sort of “gimme.” Meaning, that since Peche Seafood Grill won Best New Restaurant in the country, it seemed that the judges decided it wouldn’t make sense that Prewitt didn’t win Best Chef: South. But, it seems, they had already selected Chef Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s and Ivy for the award (she’s been nominated for an award for the past 5 years now) and decided to throw up their hands and let them both win. Now tell me, how is that fair?

If it was indeed their decision to give Prewitt the award because his restaurant won, shouldn’t that also work in reverse? Shouldn’t Gautreau’s and/or Ivy be up for an award? Wouldn’t this rationale skew the whole awards system? And not to sound like a total bitch, but hasn’t the Link Restaurant Group seen enough accolades? Like I said, I love them to death, but certainly not to the exclusion of every other talented chef in the city.

Also, though I hate to get all feminist on y’all, but doesn’t forcing Zemanick and Prewitt to share the honor seem like a typical, “good ol’ boys” solution? In an industry that is dominated by men, Zemanick is, like other women before her (Susan Spicer, Anne Kearney, Leah Chase) a bright star in the culinary universe. Doesn’t she deserve recognition without having to share it with a man?

What was your first thought when you heard the announcement? Was I the only one to feel this way? Am I overreacting? All I can do is hope for a brighter 2015…

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  1. It actually is the counter argument that is more compelling in this case. Beard made a big deal this year of awarding a lot of rewarding female chefs (and trumpeting that). As you may recall, there was a big brouhaha about a year ago about a national magazine article talking about chefs that ignored women chefs completely.

    So what if Prewitt won the award, but they slipped Sue in to bolster the "Beard gets women chefs argument"?

    If that was the case, which is just as likely as your hypothesis, does that change your opinion of the Beard awards? Of course, none of this really matters but such a gut check reaction is sort of silly.

  2. UPDATE: Apparently the voting committee only has to have eaten a nominated chef's food, not actually dine in the restaurant. That means they must have eaten nominated chef's food anytime, anywhere, like at an event. Yikes.

    Sorry about the typos. That last line should read, "In the end, it is not mine, nor anyone's intention to dilute a win – I don't think we could anyway. though I DO think questioning the system is valid, and since the Beard Foundation is now seeking to hold the Restaurant Awards Gala in other cities (a money-making proposition), I am sure that these awards, while important, DO NOT have the oomph they used to, and are not what James Beard intended.

  3. So, I don't think there is feminist component in this case, BUT, like you, I don't get why Sue and Ryan had to share. Someone should put on their big boy/girl panties and choose one, period. I researched ties in the Beard Awards and there is no corollary between winning for Best New Restaurant and "Best Chef."

    Like you, I think Ryan is terrific and so is Peche, but, it hasn't been open a year and this was the first time Ryan was nominated. It is somewhat unprecedented that first-time nominees win in the "Best Chef" category. His win is curious, for sure. And here comes another but…

    BUT, I don't think this is about Ryan or Sue. I say let's look to the voting committee, the make-up of which is past winners (yes, including Link and Stryjewski) and others who are *supposed* to have dined at every nominated chef's restaurant. I call foul. I do not believe that the all members of the voting committee have eaten at the nominated chef's restaurants.

    In the end, it is not mine, nor anyone's intention to dilute a win – I don't think we could anyway, though I think questioning the system is valid and since the Beard Foundation is no seeking to hold the Awards i n other cities (a money-making proposition), I am sure that these awards, while important, have the oomph they used to, and are not what James Beard intended.

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