It’s only been a few months since the James Beard Foundation announced its 2019 roster of award winners, with Kith/Kin’s Kwame Onwuachi, a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef, taking home the coveted Rising Star Chef of the Year award, while Ashley Christensen (behind Poole's Diner in Raleigh, N.C.) received the prestigious Outstanding Chef award. In other categories, Via Carota’s Jody Williams and Rita Sodi notably won Best Chef: New York City, and Mashama Bailey was named Best Chef: Southeast. We’re a long way out from next spring, when the foundation will debut another round of winners. However, the list is going to look a bit different next time, thanks to major changes JBF just made to its regional categories for the Restaurant and Chef Awards. The 10 regions have now been expanded and reorganized into 12, which the foundation explains reflects changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends.
Previously, the Best Chef award was broken up into the following regions: Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Great Lakes, West, Southeast, South, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, and New York City. However, the new adjustments have California leaving the West category to become its own region, and Texas, too, breaking out from the Southwest category to stand on its own. The New York City category will also fold, joining the rest of New York state (formerly part of the Northeast region) as one category. The reorganization of these three states caused some shifts in the other categories, too—the West and Northwest categories will be partially combined into a new Northwest & Pacific category (Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington), while the remaining Northwest category states will join Colorado in a new Mountain category, consisting of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.
The Southwest category, sans Texas and Colorado, will now encompass Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada (Nevada previously used to be in the West category), and finally, the Northeast category will remain unchanged saved for the breakout of New York, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The remaining categories—Great Lakes, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South, and Southeast—will stay the same. The James Beard Foundation says all of the above changes, which will go into effect before the October 1 open recommendation period for the 2020 Awards, will not only affect those considered for the awards, but “also the governing bodies that oversee the awards process.” The “America’s Classics” awards will also see a slight shift, from five honorees to six.
The regional reorganizations come months after the James Beard Foundation announced major changes to its awards process, in order to “increase gender, race, and ethnic representation in the governance and outcomes of the Awards, as well as to increase transparency of the judging process, and to make entry to the Awards more accessible than ever before.” The changes included waiving the fee on submissions for the Book, Broadcast Media, and Design Awards, as well as first-time submissions—the foundation also said it made an effort to increase diversity and transparency among the judging committees. The results of the policy changes were announced in February 2019.