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You May Already be a Winner–James Beard Awards

Chaucer has his pilgrim’s, Elliott his cruelty of April, and baseball fans their hope springing eternal each spring training. Foodies, have the James Beard Awards. It’s Semi-finalist list, announced every spring, on no exact date each year, but usually in early March, is just the first salvo towards the fervor that will grip the culinary inclined and culminate each May with respective awarding.

It’s all a swell thing to be sure. This year, two of Milwaukee’s chef’s made the Semi-finalist list. Justin Aprahamian of Sanford, who’s made it to Nominee in years prior, as well at the list for Rising Star. David Swanson of Braise got the semi-finalist nod too. If you follow things of the culinary/foodie sort, you no doubt already know this stuff. Milwaukee’s beloved Bryant’s, the nations first free standing cocktail lounge, was listed for Best Bar Program too. We’ll find out who makes it to the next rung on March 18th, after a fancy announcement by The Beard Foundation.

I sincerely hope that Bryant’s and Justin or David win. That’s not what this article is about. No, it is more about a low level of disgust I feel every time a fellow food writer or journalist (which I’m not, by a long shot) gets the whole goddamn ranking system wrong. For years now, around this time especially, but also across the year, I have endured the supposedly culinary informed list a semi-finalist as a nominee, or better yet, blithely call their subject a James Beard awarded chef, as if said chef had won. So lets clarify shall we. The semi-finalists in each region are chosen by that regions committee judges and who ever wants to get online and vote. There are usually about 20 listed per region, and, some perspective here, until someone leaked the semi-finalist list about 5 years ago, it was never before announced. Cat out of the Beard bag as it is, now the foundation makes hay with it, as do most restaurants and chefs. I would add another analogy about tails wagging the etc etc, but how many animals can you have on a page?

This brings us to Nominee’s. The list of semi-finalists is narrowed to 4-5.
Only the judges/committee can weight in on this. ONLY a Nominee can then become that year’s award recipient. They all go to Lincoln Center in New York hoping to win. Only one will.
The difference between calling a chef, talented as they may be, a nominee vs. a semi-finalist, is not, “semantics” as one reporter wrote me back in an email when I reached out and correct her. She could sorta be forgiven to an extent, as it wasn’t really her beat. Still are most reporters flummoxed by the difference between being nominated for an Oscar, and getting to thank the Academy on national tv? Still, it can be confusing. I blame the foundation for that one.

To my fellow food writers, bloggers, “enlightened eaters” and others, I give no quarter. The reason I am so sensitive to the matter is that years ago I had publicly made this same mistake, and was called out on it, assertively but generously by someone who knew, that I should have know better. This is serious stuff. To win is serious honor. Be make it to the short list and New York, is just slightly less of an honor, but an honor none the less. Obloquy for reporters who misreport, of chefs and restaurants that misrepresent seems like the next best round after this goes to print. Let’s get it right people, if not for our own dignity, but so as not to denigrate the actual honors and chefs we are so often writing about.