Revamped James Beard Awards seek to recognize diverse culinary innovators

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For New York chef Shenarri Freeman, being named a semi-finalist for a 2022 James Beard Award is a more significant achievement.

“Black people and black leaders are Make in this industry, we’ve been doing forever since the beginning of time,” Freeman said. “So it’s great that we’re now being recognized and being rewarded now for all of these things.

This year, the voting body of the James Beard Foundation has expanded to now include food experts beyond the media and traditional food chefs. The goal is to be more inclusive and to further diversify the committee. Freeman, whose restaurant Cadence in the East Village is of plant origin, is recognized for the first time in the Emerging Chef Category.

“I think that’s a really big deal and I think we’re spotlighting vegan and plant-based foods,” Freeman said. “Often we are left out of the conversation when it comes to restaurants and food.”

For Kyo Pang, leaving her family in Malaysia and moving to America on her own when she was just 21 was one of the hardest decisions she has ever made.

“When I first came to New York, it was more like I could be successful in New York, I could be successful anywhere else,” Pang said.

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Fast forward over a decade later, not only has she arrived here, but she is now thriving as an accomplished chef, a skill set she learned from both of her parents.

“Because I am the eldest daughter in the family, it was my duty to learn all the skills the family passes on to you – so I started being in the kitchen when I was 7,” Pang said. . “It feels good to be recognized for everything we do because my parents were in the industry for generations.”

Pang is the chef and owner of an authentic Malaysian cafe Kopitiam in the Lower East Side. This is now the third time she has been recognized in the category of New York State’s Top Chef by the prestigious culinary organization, which aims to identify the best chefs and restaurants in the country.

“Everyone knows how this industry has been impacted, intensely impacted by COVID, and we’re really happy to get the awards back,” said Dawn Padmore, Vice President of Awards for the James Beard Foundation.

Awards have been suspended for the past two years, but are now back – and with a few other changes. The Best New Restaurant category includes restaurants that opened in the past two years — in 2020 and 2021 — which takes into account the pandemic. Usually the awards are only based on one year. Additionally, the Emerging Chef Award was previously called the Rising Star Chef Award, and you no longer need to be 30 or younger for this category. It’s a change that’s more about diversifying the chefs who can qualify.

The foundation’s goal is to have 50% of its voting committee and judges be people of color by next year.

“We had a full audit of our policies and procedures, and they’ve tweaked some of them again,” Padmore said. “Just to keep working on bias research and keep working on more equity, gender racial equity, sustainability.”

This semi-finalist round is just the first step. The next round will announce the nominees, which is a smaller list. Then, in June, we will learn who the winner of each category is.

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