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Best Chefs, Best Restaurants, All with a Grain of Salt

Written By Scott Joseph On May 9, 2013

Another edition of the James Beard Foundation Awards has passed, and, once again, passed Florida by. Winner of the Best Chef South Region is Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, another laurel for a restaurant that has been resting on them for some years now. 

Here is a link to an article on Huffington Post that lists all the winners. I’d give you a link to the Beard website, but it’s messed up, just like the awards system.

The problem is, as I’ve mentioned before, that the chefs and restaurants are chosen based upon the votes of panelists — journalists and other food professionals — throughout the country. I have been a panelist since the awards began. Judges nominate and vote for restaurants and chefs whose food they’ve eaten — that certainly makes sense. But the panelists don’t get out much, apparently. There is no accountability for the selections, and there is no way for a newcomer or out of the way chef to get the attention of the voters unless they’ve been featured on a Food network program.

Unlike, say, the Michelin, Mobil or AAA ratings, the Beard awards are not decided by actual visits to the restaurants prior to the voting. Any panelist who has been to Commander’s Palace in the last 20 years or more could vote for the restaurant without knowledge of how the restaurant has been doing recently. That’s flawed. Michelin et. al. send professional judges to the restaurants annually to make fresh recommendations. And, they make a point of scoping out the new places, the ones with local buzz. There is no such system in place for the Beard awards, other than people like me and the other regional judges who each year try to get the word out about our local talent. But we can’t drag judges to the restaurants. We have to rely on them coming on their own, whenever they vacation of visit on business. But just try to get a judge who’s vacationing at Disney with the family to rent a car to drive to Winter Park or DeLand.

But we’ll keep trying.

In related news, an annual list of the World’s Best Restaurants has also been published. This award is sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. What do you think are the odds that a majority of the restaurants serve those products.

Bottom line: take all these awards with a grain of salt, and season with your own opinion.

What do you think about the results? Leave a comment below. (And by the way, you can log in using your Facebook credentials — it’s safe and easy.)

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