The James Beard Awards were held this evening at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, and the Bay Area performed admirably — but even after months of self-examination over endemic workplace harassment, the American restaurant industry’s most esteemed judges somehow managed to bestow an award upon a winemaker who faces renewed sexual misconduct allegations.
But first, the good news. Dominique Crenn of S.F.’s Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, and Bar Crenn, won for Best Chef: West, a geographical region that covers California, Hawaii, and Nevada. Crenn is no stranger to winning accolades, and she’s been admirably critical of the sexism inherent in dividing a Best Chef award by gender. But this award can be seen as drawing attention to a curious lacuna, as her flagship Atelier Crenn has yet to earn a third Michelin star that many people contend is long overdue.
While neither semifinalist Trick Dog nor Bar Agricole won in Outstanding Bar — which went to New Orleans’ Cure — and neither David Kinch of Manresa nor Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood won for Outstanding Chef — Gabrielle Hamilton of New York’s Prune took that honor — Zuni Cafe won for Outstanding Service, and Belinda Leong and Michael Suas of B. Patisserie won Outstanding Baker. Quince fell short in Outstanding Restaurant, but In Situ won the Restaurant Design Award for spaces seating 76 or more diners.
While the Beard Awards have faced more-than-credible accusations of being a lovefest for white male chefs, the number of finalists who were women or people of color was noticeably higher this year. As Mic documented, that may not represent a lasting trend — and in any event, the judges gave the award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional to Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, maker of the winning Chardonnay at 1976’s infamous Judgment of Paris — but who settled accusations of sexual misconduct in 2004.
Last week, James Beard Foundation Trustee Anne Quatramo signaled her organization’s hand in a statement that emphasized that “We all acknowledged that the halo of a Beard Award extends beyond the plate,” but that they would “consider the totality of what they know about any candidates when they vote — not just the quality of their food, but the quality of their leadership.” In light of the 95-year-old Grgich’s win — in 2018, of all years! — this can be read as “We’re aware of what he did and why you’re all not going to like this, but he’s an elder statesman in this industry and that’s that.”
Hiding behind deliberately unquantifiable holistic criteria is a sneaky way of letting bad actors know they can still win plaudits from the very top. And apart from being disappointing on the merits, and a spectacular failure to read the proverbial room, such a gesture undermines the progress the Beard Awards strove for this year. (Too bad there was no truth-telling comic at tonight’s dinner, a la Michelle Wolf.) But if you’re looking for additional bits of positive news, Crenn made people stand on their feet and recite a promise, “I rise … for equality, for humanity and for Mother Earth,” while José Andrés won Humanitarian of the Year for his extraordinary efforts to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery from Hurricane Maria.
See the full list of 2018 award winners here, and all Bay Area winners below.
76 Seats and Over (For the best restaurant design or renovation in North America since Jan. 1, 2015)
Firms: Aidlin Darling Design with a l m project
Designers: Joshua Aidlin, David Darling, Adam Rouse, and Andrea Lenardin Madden
Project: In Situ, San Francisco
Outstanding Baker (Presented by Taylor Precision Products)
Belinda Leong and Michel Suas
Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
Grgich Hills Estate
Best Chef: West (CA, HI, NV)
Multiple James Beard Award–Winning Author
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