The James Beard Foundation announced changes to the regional categories of its annual Restaurant & Chef Awards — considered the most prestigious culinary honors in the country. The regional Best Chef awards, which previously consisted of 10 distinct geographic areas, will expand to 12, and certain states will be reconfigured into new regions to recognize changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends. These changes will go into effect in advance of the October 1, 2019, open recommendation period for the 2020 Awards.
Every few years the Foundation, along with its Restaurant and Chef Awards subcommittee, contracts with outside demographic consultants to analyze census data and the shifting restaurant landscape to strive for balance in regional representation at the Awards. Over the past year, population statistics per state were examined against restaurant data to form the 12 regions with the goal of being as evenly distributed and culturally distinct as possible. Based on the most recent study, the following changes will be made:
- California will be removed from the “West” region and become its own regional category
- The “West” and “Northwest” categories will be partially combined into a new “Northwest & Pacific” category which will now consist of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington
- The remaining states from the former “Northwest” category will join Colorado in the newly minted “Mountain” category, which will consist fully of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming
- Texas will become its own regional category
- The Southwest, having lost Texas and Colorado to the new redistricting, will now consist of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada, the latter which joins from its previous “West” status
- “New York City,” the five boroughs which have been a standalone category since the inception of the Awards, will now be joined with the rest of New York State, formerly part of the “Northeast”, to form the “New York State” region, encompassing the city and the state in its entirety
- The remaining “Northeast” category remains the same minus New York, and now consists fully of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
- Categories that remain unchanged are “Great Lakes,” “Midwest,” “Mid-Atlantic,” “South,” and “Southeast”
“The national restaurant scene and the populations that fuel it are constantly shifting,” said James Beard Foundation Chief Strategy Officer Mitchell Davis. “We understand that as a Foundation, we must continually adapt to serve our community as fairly as possible. Our regional Best Chef categories have undergone several geographic shifts in the past to account for demographic changes found in our research and our experience with the dynamic culinary communities around the country. The last changes were implemented in 2012. By increasing our regional awards from 10 to 12 we are recognizing the explosion of food and restaurant culture across the country, and we are pleased to share this news with the food and hospitality community and all those who follow our annual Awards.”
The regional category changes affect not only those considered for the Awards themselves, but also the governing bodies that oversee the Awards process. Changes to both the subcommittee that oversees the Restaurant and Chef awards, which has seats assigned to each region, and the voting body of judges have been made accordingly. The new regions will also affect the number of America’s Classics honorees: the Foundation has historically had five honorees per year, accounting for half of the regions across the U.S. and alternating every other year. The change from 10 to 12 regions means that there will be six America’s Classics honorees annually, but the process of selection and rotating regions bi-annually will remain the same.
The Foundation invites the public to ask questions about the recent redistricting and engage with general questions about the upcoming 2020 Awards via a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Find the AMA thread here via the Foundation Reddit account https://www.reddit.com/user/