You’d think after the damage done by their recently convicted former president, the questions raised about their whole purpose, and the nauseating revelations of how little money the James Beard Foundation were actually raising for scholarships, that they’d maybe learned something. That they’d adapted, moved on, become more sensitive to the widely held perception that they are in fact, nothing more than a private dining society, a high-rent memorial to a much disliked crank who–once a year, throws a lavish stroke-and-choke where corporate sponsors can “honor” prominent chefs and restaurant folk at what remains–for better or worse–the “Oscars of food” ceremony.
Apparently, you’d be wrong. For an organization that exists (purportedly) to ” honor” the craft and profession of cooking, the Beard Foundation continues to send a message of continued cluelessness and disregard. With their most recent startegic masterstroke, they have, yet again, sent the message, ” We like famous chefs just fine–especially if we’re handing’em the Cuisinart/Vulcan/Fiji Water Humanitarian Award–but who are these nasty cook creatures we keep hearing rumors of?” The $400 dollar a pop awards–where, traditionally, chefs and cooks from all over the country are “invited” (in a Carlo Gambino sense of the word) to contribute food and labor and personnel for a grand tasting clusterfuck near the ceremony, were, until recently, held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. This venue had the appropriate–one would think–virtue of actually having a fucking KITCHEN. Presumably–and I’m just guessing here–COOKS like-when laboring for free to put their restaurant’s best foot forward and bring honor to their clans–to have an actual KITCHEN. You know..that place where they actually COOK?
Not this year, friends. This year, it has been decided that in favor of bigger and swankier accomodations for the self congratulatory nearly all-white attendees, that the cooks can take it in their collective poop-chute. At The new venue, Avery Fisher Hall, only hot boxes, induction tops and propane burners are allowed. Reheats only! Out of town chefs with ambitions to actually cook at some point in the prep process are invited to bunk with the locals, jamming their food and staff into New York’s already too-small, too crowded kitchens. It’s a breathtakingly tone-deaf, dismissive move–one that will only cement the unspoken wisdom that the clueless Beardies are “outsiders”–not “one of us” at all–and completely uninterested and uncomprehending of the real world of cooks and restaurants.
I will careful tell you of an equally horrifying episode. At a recent event, I was introduced to the incoming (Beard House honcho whose position I will not describe here). Suffice to say it was a high position. Very high.
When she inquired about the possibility of my involvement in some tandem Beard event with my friend Eric Ripert,I declined, saying it would be hypocritical of me–given what I’ve said and written–to take part. I explained that I would be an enthusiastic supporter and participant of all things Beard when and if I saw some kind of an effort to acknowledge the people who are actually doing the cooking in this country–the between 30 and 70% of restaurant employees of Mexican and Latino origin–of varying legal status. I was thinking a few bucks set aside for free para-legal advice. Maybe a widely accessible library. English lessons.
Her response? She looked at me with an expression of absolute sincerity and said, ” Oh..we’re very aware of the important contribution of our Lateeeno population.” Then, proudly boasted about the good works Beard House has been doing on their behalf: ” Why…just last week at a dinner at the House, 7 out of 10 of the waiters we hired were Lateeno!” She looked at me, guilessly, as if expecting a pat on the head.