by Monica Burton
Today, the James Beard Foundation announced its Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists for 2020.
While last year’s awards saw changes to address the gender and racial diversity of nominees and winners, this year, the Beards are focusing on geographic diversity. For the first time, there will be a Best Chef: California and a Best Chef: Texas among the awards. This ups the total Best Chef awards categories to 12 and relegates the other states that were once apart of the “West” category to a new “Northwest and Pacific” category that comprises Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.
The James Beard Foundation also redrew the lines around several of the remaining Best Chef categories. A newly named “Mountain” category will include Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming; the Southwest category now comprises Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada. Best Chef: New York City has morphed into Best Chef: New York State.
According to the Foundation, the changes are meant to address “changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends.” They also address the frequent criticism, as noted by Eater restaurant editor Hillary Dixler Canavan around last year’s awards, that the original geographic categories were unfair to the West, Midwest, and Texas: chefs from California consistently dominated in the “West”; Chicago stole focus in the “Great Lakes”; and last year, Texas was completely shut out of the awards despite being home to major dining destinations like Austin and Houston.
After the judges and committee members vote, this “long list” will drop down to five finalist nominees per category, to be announced on Wednesday, March 25 from Philadelphia. Winners will be announced during the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago on May 4, where the previously announced six America’s Classics winners (one more honoree than in previous years) will also be acknowledged. (Meanwhile, media awards winners will be revealed on Friday, April 24.)