June 13, 2024
The James Beard Awards celebrate the nation’s best culinary talents, featuring standout winners like a New Orleans-based Senegalese restaurant.
The renowned James Beard Awards are back, and among this year’s recipients are a New Orleans-based Senegalese restaurant, a Palestinian chef using ancient cooking techniques, and an upscale Thai restaurant operating out of Oregon.
With over 100 restaurants coming in as finalists across 22 categories, this momentous occasion is likened to the Oscars, but for the culinary arts. The highly anticipated categories include awards for outstanding chefs, restaurateurs, and restaurants and have held ceremonies since 1991, with a brief pause from 2020 to 2021 due to the global pandemic and its impact on the restaurant industry.
Moreover, the James Beard Awards also faced criticism over a lack of diversity and allegations about some of the nominees’ behavior during that time. Moving forward, officials of the foundation vowed to “improve ethical standards and be more reflective of the industry.”
Now, back for its third consecutive year since taking a break during the height of the pandemic, the James Beard Awards are back and better than ever. After applying for the awards, a restaurant’s cuisine is tried by judges who mostly remain anonymous. Nominees are then reviewed for not only the food but also a behavioral code of ethics that includes how employees are treated.
Winners, announced at the Lyric Opera of Chicago venue, were given engraved medallions. Dakar NOLA, the Senegalese restaurant housed in New Orleans, walked away with an award for the best new restaurant.
“I always knew that West Africa has something to say,” said chef Serigne Mbaye. “That kept me going.”
Among the other winners were Colorado couple Erika and Kelly Whitaker, who won the award for outstanding restaurateur, and Michael Rafidi, who leads Washington D.C.’s restaurant Alibi, who walked away with the outstanding chef honor.
Alibi, Arabic for “my heart,” pays homage to Rafidi’s Palestinian roots through the use of Old World food preparation techniques. “This is for Palestine and all the Palestinian people out there,” Rafidi told The Associated Press after winning the award. He also recalled constantly thinking of his Palestinian grandfather, who was also a chef, and how he paved the way for him.
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