Restaurant Industry Insights

Small Cities and Beautiful Cultures Highlighted in 2024 James Beard Awards

The chef and restaurant winners of the 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards were announced on June 10 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Congratulations to all those who received this prestigious award, known as the “Oscars of the food world.”

According to the Foundation, the James Beard Awards “recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”  

Let’s discover if they lived up to their mission statement, who was named the outstanding chef of 2024, and if the foundation’s determination to embrace diversity was still apparent.

Awards Reflecting the Changing Times

Monday evening’s awards encompassed the regions and cultures that have often gone unrecognized in previous years. West African roots, classic Thia, and traditional Arabic cuisine all gained attention. People from the Philippines, Peru, Senegal, and Vietnam found themselves on the stage, accepting an award. 

Some areas in the U.S. that have been passed over for the larger metropolitan areas also received their due. Paul Smith, the winner of Best Chef: Southeast, heads 1010 Bridge in Charleston, West Virginia. This award represents the first time a restaurant in West Virginia has won in a main category. 

Best Chef: Northeast when to David Standridge of the Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic, Connecticut. This small town of just under 4,350 people has been dubbed one of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S. 

Chef Harley Peet of Easton, Maryland, took home Best Chef: Mid Atlantic category for his work at Bas Rouge, a Viennese fine dining establishment. Easton is a small town of just under 17,000 people that’s becoming well-known as a top-tier dining destination. Peet dedicated his award to a co-worker and urged those in the industry to watch fellow staff members for signs they may be struggling.  

The Winner of the Best New Restaurant

Dakar NOLA in New Orleans received the coveted Best New Restaurant award. Chef Serigne Mbaye offers a Senegalese tasting menu, an expression of his roots. He gave thanks to his team upon receiving the award. “Dakar is a space of love, joy, and hope. Our staff’s commitment to this is the reason we’re here today.”

Outstanding Hospitality

Lulu Café in Chicago won for Outstanding Hospitality, an award that’s defined by creating a sense of hospitality among customers, the community, and the staff. In an interview following the ceremony, chef and owner Jason Hammel stated, “It’s a huge deal for us because it’s an award that recognizes an entire team. We don’t believe that hospitality is just between guests and servers. We believe that hospitality starts in the kitchen, in the breakroom, in the morning when the team comes and you welcome them…We believe it starts with us.” 

So very well said.

And the Top Chef Goes To

Michael Rafidi, chef and owner of the Michelin-starred Albi in Washington, D.C., won the outstanding chef award. A Palestinian American who grew up in D.C., he dedicated his award to Palestinians around the world. Rafidi and his restaurant are known for open-fire cooking, eastern Mediterranean flavors, and Arabic ingredients. 

Like many at the award ceremony, Rafidi invited some of his team members onstage, stating their importance. Others spoke of the need to care for their restaurant families in a sometimes challenging industry. Rafidi wasn’t the only winner arriving from D.C. Chef Masako Morishita of Perry’s received the Emerging Chef award due, in part, to her classic Japanese comfort food.

How these awards will affect the recipients is yet unknown. For some, it can be life-changing. For others, it represents significant recognition from the best in the industry—a sign that the road they’re on is well-chosen. 

 

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