JuneBaby, a Seattle restaurant focused on the foods of the American South, was named Best New Restaurant on Monday night at the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards ceremony in Chicago.
Its founding chef, Edouardo Jordan, is the first African-American to earn that prize. He also picked up an award for Best Chef in the Northwest for his first restaurant, Salare. With that rare double victory, he found himself in the center of a winners’ circle suddenly filled with women and people of color.
The chef and writer Gabrielle Hamilton, who runs just one small restaurant — Prune, in the East Village of Manhattan, with about 30 seats — won the national award for Outstanding Chef, a recognition that her influence in the industry far exceeds her footprint.
After nine consecutive nominations, Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala., was chosen Outstanding Restaurant, a sweet victory for its founding chef and owner, Frank Stitt. (He was also a four-time finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast, but never won in that category.) The restaurant also earned an Outstanding Pastry Chef title for Dolester Miles, who has been making the restaurant’s refined, classic Southern desserts since it opened in 1982.
Another pastry chef, Camille Cogswell of Zahav in Philadelphia, was named Rising Star Chef, cementing the dominance of that modern Israeli restaurant, which has won multiple awards for its chef, Michael Solomonov. Belinda Leong and Michel Suas shared the Outstanding Baker award for their modern-French B. Patisserie in San Francisco.
While the national awards are handed out to established talents, the coveted regional awards can be a springboard to fame.
This year, most went to chefs with relatively new restaurants: Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney in Washington D.C., Nina Compton of Compère Lapin in New Orleans, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, Missy Robbins of Lilia in Brooklyn, and Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis.
Longer-serving chefs include Karen Akunowicz of Myers & Chang in Boston; Abraham Conlon, who improvises new American food with the Chinese-Portuguese-Indian flavors of the island of Macau at Fat Rice in Chicago; Alex Seidel, who runs a farm and creamery alongside his restaurant Mercantile in Denver; and Rodney Scott, of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, S.C., long famous for his wood-smoked whole-hog barbecue.
Two standard-setters in California won national awards for hospitality: Zuni Café in San Francisco for Outstanding Service, and Caroline Styne, who runs Lucques, A.O.C., and other Los Angeles-area restaurants with the chef Suzanne Goin, for Outstanding Restaurateur.
The movement away from elaborate meals and European cuisine continued, as high-end destinations like Spiaggia, the Restaurant at Meadowood, Le Pigeon, Quince and Boka were shut out. (Atelier Crenn is a notable exception.)
This year’s roster of winners reflects the forces pushing the industry away from its history of honoring mostly white, male chefs. In this year’s culinary categories (excluding service, design, wine and so forth), 11 of 15 awards went to chefs who are women, or people of color, or both.
In the last year, several journalistic investigations revealed that male chefs and restaurateurs, including Beard award winners, had engaged in chronic sexual harassment of female employees and colleagues.
The foundation has not revoked the awards bestowed on Mario Batali (Outstanding Restaurateur in 2008 and Outstanding Chef in 2005), Ken Friedman (Outstanding Restaurateur in 2016), and John Besh (Best Chef in the Southeast in 2006). However, this year’s judges, about 600 people including past winners, were instructed to “bear in mind that award winners are held up as role models. If you have concerns about a chef, restaurateur or beverage professional, or about the culture around a restaurant or restaurant group, leave the person or business out of your nominations.”
The chef José Andrés was named 2018 Humanitarian of The Year for his on-the-ground work feeding the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
Established in 1990, the awards also include book and journalism citations that were presented in New York on April 27. A full list of winners is on the James Beard Foundation’s website.