Mashama Bailey of the Gray in Savannah, Ga., was named Outstanding Chef, and Owamni by the Sioux Chef in Minneapolis, owned by the chef Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, was named Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Foundation awards on Monday night.
The ceremony, hosted by Kwame Onwuachi, the foundation’s 2019 Rising Star Chef, was held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago before some 1,800 attendees, and perhaps the most diverse group of nominees and winners to date.
“Today, a little Black girl or a little Black boy can see themselves as a future Outstanding Chef,” said Ms. Bailey, who won Best Chef: Southeast in 2019, as she accepted her award on Monday. “They can see themselves in a space that they have never seen before, and do what they could not think is possible. And until just a few minutes ago, that was me.”
The awards were on hiatus for the past two years amid concerns about the diversity of finalists, accusations against nominees and the pandemic’s effects on the hospitality business. After the turmoil of 2020 and 2021, the foundation said it had taken steps to overhaul the nominating and judging systems to make them more transparent.
Chai Pani in Asheville, NC, was named Outstanding Restaurant. Chris Bianco of Tratto, Pane Bianco and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix was named Outstanding Restaurateur.
The Emerging Chef award went to Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Tex.
There are 12 regional awards given for best chefs: Chintan Pandya of Dhamaka and of Unapologetic Foods won Best Chef: New York State. Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco won Best Chef: California.
Warda Bouguettaya of Warda Pâtisserie in Detroit was named Outstanding Pastry Chef, while Don Guerra of Barrio Bread in Tucson, Ariz., received the Outstanding Baker award.
The Four Horsemen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was cited for its Outstanding Wine Program and Julep in Houston for Outstanding Bar Program. Cúrate in Asheville, NC, was given the award for Outstanding Hospitality.
Over the past two years, the awards have been roiled by controversy and infighting. In August 2020, the foundation made the unusual decision to not name any James Beard winners for that year, aside from a few that had already been announced. It was subsequently reported that some of the nominated chefs had faced accusations of workplace misconduct, although the exact nature of those accusations were not made public.
Foundation staff, who are separate from the nominating and voting committees, also raised concerns that no Black people had won in any of the 23 award categories. “The message came through that they knew who the winners were, and the winners didn’t look like they want them to look,” one committee member told The New York Times in 2020.
The 20-member restaurant awards committee pushed the foundation to acknowledge that a list of winners had, in fact, been reached, which Clare Reichenbach, the chief executive of the James Beard Foundation, denied. “There was at the end vote on the winners,” she said. The foundation also announced at the time that there would be no awards given out in 2021, particularly because of the pandemic’s effect on the restaurant industry.
In 2021, the foundation also added a requirement that, as well as culinary excellence, winners must demonstrate a “commitment to racial and gender equity, community, environmental sustainability and a culture where all can thrive.”
At Monday’s awards, Ms. Reichenbach said, “Tonight, as we recognize outstanding food and beverage professionals, we also honor our entire industry and the incredible resilience, fortitude, talent and leadership so many have shown over the past two years.”
Grace Young was named Humanitarian of the Year for her support of Chinatowns across America. Martin Yan was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Among the winners of the American Classics awards were Wo Hop, a restaurant owned by the Huang family in Manhattan’s Chinatown that opened in 1938, and Solly’s Grille in Milwaukee.
The restaurant and chef awards were established in 1990 and first given out in New York in 1991. The ceremonies moved to Chicago in 2015.
The media and cookbook awards were presented on Saturday, and the Leadership Awards, honoring social initiatives in the food world, followed on Sunday.
The complete list of awards is at jamesbeard.org.