The James Beard Awards, known as the “Oscars of the culinary world,” have come and gone for 2015. The silver anniversary year brought the Awards to a new city, Chicago, after spending the first 24 in New York. Celebrations and recognition of the best in food and beverage, restaurant design, culinary influencers, culinary books and literature, culinary journalism and media, and more brought together titans of the industry to one location — making this annual event one of the largest and most prestigious of its kind for the year.
Beyond the prestige, the backbone of the Awards is the James Beard Foundation. Founded in 1986 after the death of James Beard – an advocate of learning for student chefs, food writers, and other culinary and beverage professionals – the center has continued in the spirit of James Beard by administering a number of diverse programs that not only includes the James Beard Awards, but also a national Food Conference, Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change, educational initiatives, and numerous publications in print and online. The Foundation also maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City which serves as a space for visiting chefs, with dinners and events scheduled over 200 nights per year.
“The James Beard Foundation has developed and continues to expand its Impact Programs, which encourage dialogue between diverse stakeholders in the food system while providing an opportunity for chefs to help influence food decisions for the larger American population,” said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation.
Another major part of the organization’s service to the food community is the scholarship program. They offer a variety of financial aid opportunities to anyone wanting to pursue a career in culinary arts, pastry, wine studies, or management. According to Ungaro, since 1991 $5.6 million in financial aid to more than 1,750 students “to help them get the education they need to be the great culinary talent of tomorrow.”
Ungaro stated, “The James Beard Foundation’s scholarship program is an integral part of our mission, which is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. For more than two decades now, the James Beard Foundation has helped launch the careers of the next generation of great chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, and beverage experts through our prestigious scholarship and mentorship programs.”-
She added that this year has seen the largest amount of scholarships and grants available in the Foundation’s history (over $700,000) in addition to the expansion of reach globally with international scholarships in France and Italy.
The money raised from the James Beard Awards and other special events throughout the year hosted by the Foundation goes to supporting scholarships and other programming, education, and operations needs. In addition to the Awards, over the special weekend a “James Beard Eats” menu was offered at 85 restaurants to benefit a local scholarship; Lettuce Entertain You hosted the “Rising Star Dinner” series featuring nominee Ari Taymor and winner Jessica Largey with proceeds benefiting the James Beard Foundation; and, various Friends of Beard benefits were featured.
Something else the world can expect this year from The James Beard Foundation is that they will be co-leading the effort for the U.S. State Department to produce the USA Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015, a global gathering of 147 countries addressing the challenges of how we will feed ourselves in the future. The pavilion, themed “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet,” showcases America’s contributions to global food security and gastronomy. There is also a James Beard American Restaurant pop-up in Milan during the Expo.
For more information about the James Beard Foundation visit jamesbeard.org.