By Bill Golladay [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

October 2, 2018; The New York Times

Attention, foodies! If you ever wanted to nominate a restaurant, chef, cookbook, or food journalist for a James Beard award, there are now more opportunities to do so.

To further position the James Beard Foundation as being inclusive and build a position of fighting racial and gender discrimination in the restaurant industry, the Foundation announced changes in its rules and regulations this week. These new rules start immediately, in time for this year’s awards. Nominations, which can involve the public, begin this month and culminate at a banquet in May 2019.

So how does all this work, and why does this venerable foundation, which awarded over two-thirds of its coveted medals last May to women and minorities, feel it must do more?

“The idea is to make sure it’s more indicative of who is working in the industry and that people are doing what they should be doing,” said Anne Quatrano, the Atlanta chef who oversees the awards.

Most notably, the powerful volunteer committees that govern which restaurants, chefs, media outlets, and publications are nominated for medals will aim to be at least as diverse as the United States population. The larger groups of judges who vote on winners will face a similar mandate.

The committees, which will initially use Census Bureau statistics as a guide, won’t remove members to achieve racial and gender parity, but rather will fill vacancies or expand the committees to increase diversity, she said.

The prestige of the James Beard Award has been tarnished in the past with charges of racism and sexism in the selection of winning chefs and restaurants. With the #MeToo movement, the industry saw the fall of a number of its past celebrity chefs (and Beard Award winners) to charges of sexual harassment. The difficulty for women and minorities to “make it” in the restaurant industry is seen in the limited numbers of those who own and run restaurants, as well as those who win these awards.

Last year’s James Beard Awards were seen as a breakthrough because they added behavior as a criterion for judging, along with food and service. That will certainly continue this year, and some of the changes will open the award to more public participation—as well as make the awards more accessible if you get your application in early. Also, they have added monetary awards to accompany the medals that depict the famous chef.

The leadership awards, which focus on issues of food justice, public health and sustainable practices, are also undergoing a modest renovation. Instead of selecting winners from a list generated by both a standing committee and previous winners, the awards will allow the public to nominate people. For the first time, winners will receive $10,000.

The foundation is also waiving some media entry fees in an effort to attract new voices. First-time entrants in the journalism awards may submit work without charge. Entry fees for its other media categories, including books, broadcast and design, will be waived for the first two weeks of the submission period, which begins October 15th. (Restaurants and chefs don’t pay to enter.)

So, if you want to nominate your favorite chef or restaurant, start at the James Beard Foundation website. The rules are pretty simple; amazingly, you can even nominate the taco stand down the block if it has been in business for 10 years.—Carole Levine