|Image via JBF|
On February 21, the James Beard Foundation released its list of semifinalists for the 2012 JBF Restaurant and Chefs Awards. Out of 20 award categories, there is only one dedicated to pastry. Earlier this year I wrote a letter to the JBF, making a case for expanding the award to honor regional pastry chefs, just like they award regional savory chefs. My letter is reprinted in its entirety below. I ask that you take a moment to read it. Then please, share your thoughts.
Do you feel that pasty chefs should be recognized by the same set of standards as savory chefs? Just last month, Food & Wine magazine awarded America's Best New Pastry Chefs for the first time ever, similar to the Best New Chef's awards they've honored American chefs with for years.
This conversation is also taking place on Pastry Chef Shuna Lydon's blog, Eggbeater. Please join in the debate here or there. Or take things one step further and write a letter to the James Beard Foundation yourself!
July 26, 2011
James Beard Foundation
Dear Ms. Ungaro,
The James Beard Foundation has repeatedly wowed me over the years with their commitment to honoring culinary professionals of all kinds in the United States—not only are the crème de la crème of the industry acknowledged by the JBF, but also professionals who are just beginning their careers; professionals who use food as a way of giving back to their communities; professionals who write about food, photograph food, and even design spaces where food is served. Professionals, who just like the JBF, set the standard for the nation’s industry.
My first introduction to the James Beard Foundation was in 1999. I was finishing a program in pastry arts at Kendall College, 19 years old, and embarking on my career as a pastry professional in Chicago. My chef, and former JB Nominee, Don Yamauchi and pastry chef Celeste Zecola of Gordon were asked to cook the last two courses for a “Friends of the Beard House” dinner at Crofton on Wells; I was invited along to assist. It was at that dinner, in the company of amazing chefs and former James Beard Award winners such as Charlie Trotter, Norman Van Aken and Carrie Nahabedian, that I decided, I, too, wanted to become a friend of the Beard House. I, too, wanted to strive to win an award, as Pastry Chef of the Year. I still have the menu from that evening; it serves as a reminder of my goal, and as a reminder of my respect for the James Beard Foundation’s endeavors.
Fast forward twelve years, and many James Beard dinners, benefits, award ceremonies later and while I still dream of an award, my dreams have broadened slightly. Now I dream to make a lasting impact – an impact that will garner recognition for more of my peers and for the pastry profession as a whole. I found myself sitting in the auditorium at Lincoln Center last spring thinking, “One pastry chef award a year just isn’t enough to honor all the hard work and expertise of pastry chefs nationwide.” Just as the cuisine of savory chefs varies throughout the country by region and season, the desserts of the country’s finest pastry chefs do as well.
The baking and pastry industry has flourished in recent years. Television shows like Top Chef: Just Desserts have top ratings; schools are being dedicated solely to the art of baking and pastry; films like Kings of Pastry, chronicling the World Pastry Cup competition are in theatres nationwide; pastry chefs have celebrity status and are becoming household names; restaurants are highlighting their pastry chefs nearly as much as their head chefs; enrollment in pastry-based culinary programs has increased by 50-75% in the last handful of years. With the field of baking and pastry growing at the rate it is, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the James Beard Foundation rise along with it?
And so my question to the James Beard Foundation, its Board of Trustees, and its National Advisory Board is this: Would the James Beard Foundation consider honoring pastry chefs within regions just like they do savory chefs? In just the last few months, I have mentioned the idea of award expansion to several of my pastry and savory chef colleagues across the country, chefs who are both former JB Award nominees and winners, and every single one of them agrees—awarding more than one pastry chef a year would be a tremendous acknowledgement to the pastry profession from the organization that the pastry profession respects most.
Many thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to working with you soon.