Robb Report | Jeremy Repanich | February 27, 2019

The first James Beard Award nominees since the foundation overhauled its voting body.

There are a lot of food awards begging for your attention and desiring to be the “Oscars of food”–like last week’s first ever World Restaurant Awards–but in America, that distinction largely falls on the James Beard Awards. And as the actual Oscars awards season has wound down, it’s time to kick food one into high gear. Today, the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its 2019 awards.

This will be the first awards since the foundation revamped its voting body to encourage a more diverse pool of nominees. Historically, the people who voted for James Beard Awards were predominantly male and white. And not coincidentally, so were many of the winners over the years. The foundation is remedying this by mandating the judging panel’s makeup would reflect the country’s diversity, using the U.S. Census as a guide.

Even before the changes to the judging went into effect, it seemed the Beard Awards were already undergoing a pretty major shift. The #metoo movement had brought forward allegations of misconduct from famed chefs and restaurateurs like John Besh, Mario Batali, and Ken Friedman. In it’s wake, the industry seemed to take a long look in the mirror about what it valued and appeared ready for new leadership. Subsequently, last year’s awards had more female winners than men for the first time and had the highest number of people of color take home medals. The change in rules will only further cement that the people who receive awards will reflect the diversity of the restaurant industry.

On March 27, the James Beard Foundation will broadcast live from Hugo’s restaurant in Houston to reveal the five finalists in each category.