Until American restaurants became eligible for Michelin stars more than 10 years ago, the James Beard awards, which are only for U.S. restaurants, were arguably the country’s highest achievement of American culinary prowess. They are often referred to as
Paris may be for lovers, but Santa Fe is for eaters. The ratio of notable restaurants to avid diners in this town is high, even if you count the tourists, and Santa Fe is a destination city as much for its food as for its art and excellent weather. If you need proof, consider how many of this relatively small town’s restaurants have been listed as nominees, semifinalists, or winners of the James Beard Awards over the years.
Until American restaurants became eligible for Michelin stars more than 10 years ago, the James Beard Awards, which are only for U.S. restaurants, were arguably the country’s highest achievement of American culinary prowess. They are often referred to as the Oscars of food, and for chefs, getting their name on the semifinalist list is a point of pride — well-earned recognition for those who spend their lives in the kitchen.
“It’s kind of exciting,” said chef James Campbell Caruso, of La Boca and Taberna La Boca, of his Beard nominations. A Boston-born chef with Basque and Italian roots, Caruso studied anthropology at the University of New Mexico and brought that sensibility into his study of Spanish cuisine. He approaches the menu at both his restaurants (which are around the corner from each other) with an appreciation for authenticity, and has been a Beard semifinalist in the Best Chef in the Southwest category five times so far. “It’s really done a lot for American chefs, especially 20 to 25 years ago, when the world was looking more toward Europe for the best food and the best chefs,” he said. “There was a big turnover, and American chefs got a lot more credibility and notice, and I think the James Beard Foundation was a big part of that.”
James Beard (1903-1985) was an American cookbook author, chef, and food personality who became the face of American fine cuisine. The James Beard Foundation annually awards excellence to America’s chefs, restaurants, food writers, cookbook authors, and even cooking shows. Anyone can submit a chef or restaurant during the “call for entries” phase of the awards. From there, the awards committee whittles the list down to approximately 20 semifinalists in each category; the names are announced in February. Those semifinalists are then presented to the voters — panelists and committee members with the Beard Foundation as well as the roughly 300 previous James Beard Award winners, who are eligible to vote forever thereafter. They vote for a list of five or so nominees (sometimes also referred to as “finalists”) in each category, and then the judges determine the winners, which are announced at an awards ceremony in April or early May. As the Beard Awards have grown, what once was a black-tie event held on a boat in Manhattan is now split into roughly two separate events: an awards event for food writing and journalism in New York and a chef and restaurant awards gala in Chicago. Winners get a medal and a plaque and a statue, but because all the voting members are culinary professionals (or food journalists and writers), It also gave us a huge boost in credibility . ... People would say, ‘Oh isn’t it cute that they write those cookbooks . ... Oh wow, they really write cookbooks!‘ — Cheryl Alters Jamison, cookbook author