The James Beard Foundation has just published their extensive list of semifinalists for 2012. There are dozens of names listed in every category. My name was on that list last year. It was a cause for great excitement and anticipation. While I didn't make the nomination list, being a semifinalist is enough to put on a resume and feel proud of. To be noticed and recognized by the James Beard Foundation is a wonderful thing. And none to easy for a pastry chef, for which only 1, in all of the USA, is chosen per year.
What are the JBF awards? From their website:
Excellence. Passion. Achievement. Success.
The James Beard Foundation Awards shine a spotlight on the best and brightest talent in the food and beverage industry.
Covering all aspects of the industry—from chefs and restaurateurs to cookbook authors and food journalists to restaurant designers and architects and more—the Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America.
Cook. Baker. Chef. Pastry Chef. Commis. Sous Chef. Saucier. Prep. Dishwasher. Restaurant Owner. It's mostly a thankless job, despite what the media screams at you. It's hard work, day after day, hour after relentless hour, year after vacationless year. Month after month of the same chaos, sometimes reigned, mostly flood.
And then, bam! Once a year a list comes out. The names on it are ones we know, ones we've hard before; some we're surpised by, many we're bored of hearing about. When we read the winners, we're happy there are so many of them it takes a minute to realize there are so very few in the categories of Pastry Chef, Baker, Chocolatier. It takes you another minute to realize there's only 1 award for Pastry Chef Baker Chocolatier. 1.
One James Beard Foundation Outstanding Pastry Chef a year.
In all of the United States of America. A small country, I'll admit, but still. Really? 1?!
How are the awards determined? There's general, legalese information on the James Beard Foundation website under the title "Policies & Procedures." And then there's the critique by Josh Ozersky in Time Magazine. But for the "real deal" see what a JBF Judge says about the process, the criteria, for voting on and choosing "the one," out of hundreds of thousands.
How can one award once a year, define us? It can't, of course.
being a chef is part pirate, part whore, part punk rock, part cop, part junkyard dog, part priest, part cog-in-the-wheel, part junkie, part celebrity, part sell-out, part pawn, part athlete, part mother, part judge & jailer & lawyer, part diplomat, part lunatic, part model, part artist, part factory drone, part convict, part philoopher, part conductor, part jock and stoner both, part prat, part citizen, part murderer, part numbers-cruncher, part mayor, part politician, part polyanna, part bad guy & good girl both, part craftsman, part jailer, part tornado, part scoundrel, part construction worker, part radical, part accountant, part do-gooder, part thief, part doctor,
Chef. A recipe with a list of unattainable ingredients. Incompatible parts.
And there are so many of us.
But because the James Beard Foundation yearly awards are where it's at, I beg you to write them requesting a Regional Outstanding Pastry Chef Award, as they do for savory chefs.
One such person has already written and set forth such a letter. Jenny McCoy, my good friend and colleague, most recently pastry chef of Craft in NYC, set down brave and eloquent words, sending them to Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation. Jenny's words, as she is in person, are strong, educated, positive, proactive and utterly brave.
Very lucky for me, and all of you, she has agreed to let me publish her letter.
July 26, 2011
James Beard Foundation
167 West 12th Street
New York, NY 10011
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.
Jenny's blog, Seasonal Sweets, also has a copy of her letter published, and another plea to write to The James Beard Foundation.
Please honor Jenny's gift, Jenny's bravery, Jenny's letter with a letter of your own!
Consider this post a call to action.
Please send a letter-- especially if you are a cooking for a living. Please write a letter if you [or someone you know, know of, respect, love and or admire, are inspired by] are now, or want to be: a Chef, a James Beard Award Winner, a Pastry Chef, Pastry Cook. Or believe Pastry Chefs should get the same recognition as Savory Chefs.