Beginner’s Guide to the James Beard Awards

Since Chicago is hosting one of the most prestigious events of the culinary world on May 4th (and as of this morning’s news, each year until 2018), it’s no surprise that the word is buzzing throughout the streets-especially since this is the first time ever that the awards have been held outside of New York City.

However, do people even know what the James Beard Awards are? What does it mean to get such an award? Who is James Beard? Who is even on the list of nominees? To prevent a lot of confusion and to give our readers some insight, we’ve compiled a simple-beginners-guide to all things James Beard:

What are the James Beard Awards? 

Consider the James Beard Awards the “Oscars of the food world, resembling more of a giant food award ceremony and involving the country’s most prestigious and acclaimed chefs, celebrities, James Beard associates, and best of all, local and national foodies. This year in particular, is extra special because 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of the awards.

The award ceremony was started by The James Beard Foundation. Founded in 1986, the James Beard Foundation’s mission is to continue to celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. Today the Beard Foundation administers a number of diverse programs that include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships for culinary students, publications, chef advocacy training, and thought leader convening. James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields. Each award category has an individual committee made up of industry professionals who volunteer their time to oversee the policies, procedures, and selection of judges for their respective Awards program. All JBF Award winners receive a certificate and a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia.

Who is James Beard? 

Anointed the “Dean of American cookery” by the New York Times in 1954, James Beard laid the groundwork for the food revolution that has put America at the forefront of global gastronomy. Not only was he was a pioneer foodie, a host of the first food program on the fledgling medium of television in 1946, and an early champion of local products and markets, James was the first to suspect that classic American culinary traditions might cohere into a national cuisine. Beard nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors who have changed the way we eat.

James Beard

James Beard

How are the nominees chosen and where can I find a list of semifinalists?

The process began in October with an open call online; anyone could submit up to two entries per category. After receiving close to 35,000 submissions,  Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee, composed of critics, writers, and editors, went to work and produced the list of semifinalists, culled from the open call, for each award. This list moved on to a voting body of former Beard Award winners; Restaurant and Chef Award Committee members; and other regional panelists.

After these judges casted their votes, the five semifinalists with the highest number of votes in each category become the nominees, or “finalists.” Those names, along with the nominations for our Book, Journalism, Broadcast Media, and Restaurant Design Awards, were announced at the Beard House in New York City on Tuesday, March 24. Besides popular Chicago locations gracing the nominee list such as Parachute, The Violet Hour, Blackbird, Sepia, Topolobampo, and more, a complete list of the 2015 finalists can be found here.


When and where do the awards take place? 

Hosted by Alton Brown, will be held at Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 4. Carla Hall will host the Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards Dinner, taking place at New York City’s Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on Friday, April 24. Tickets to the main gala went on sale April 1, while BBJ ceremony tickets are now available online.

All information is provided and referenced by the James Beard Foundation

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