The past two years have been tumultuous for the James Beard Foundation, especially its awards program. On the one hand, they were canceled in 2020 and 2021, partly because of the pandemic, but more so because of the need to redesign the program after several internal reproaches and one New York Times report that revealed not a single black chef was among the 2020 winners.
What ensued was a full audit of the rewards program and its policies and procedures.
Among its goals were to “remove any systemic bias”, “increase the diversity of the electorate” and “increase transparency in the operation of the awards”.
Today, the Foundation announced the semi-finalists for its chef and restaurant categories and four Orlando cooks earned the nod: Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi for Best Chef: South, Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando for Best Pastry Chef, Evette Rahman of Sister Honey’s for Outstanding Baker and Jason and Sue Chin of the Good Salt Restaurant Group for Outstanding Restaurateur.
This is the second nomination for Moso, who was named a semi-finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2020, and Rabii Saber, who was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2019.
It’s a first for Rahman, whose many accolades include being a three-time Dessert Champion at the World Food Championships, as well as the Chins who run four of the city’s most beloved restaurants – Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, Osprey Tavern, Reyes Mezcaleria and The Monroe — under the Good Salt Restaurant Group umbrella.
Of note is the diversity and immigrant roots of this year’s slate of nominees. Moso is from Laos, Saber from Morocco, Rahman from Jamaica and the Chins are both of Korean descent (Sue was born in Seoul).
Making the long list of semifinalists is a regular occurrence for the Orlando and Central Florida chiefs, but neither has ever made the short list of finalists.
That could change this year due to some procedural changes.
Members of the Restaurant and Chef Awards Sub-Committee, comprised of industry authorities including chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and critics, produce the list of semi-finalists, after which the ballot Your vote is distributed online to a larger voting body that narrows the list down to five finalists per category.
To make this shortlist, Central Florida leaders need votes from this Electoral College. In the past, the trick was to get those members to eat at their restaurant, a proposition that proved difficult for former Orlando-area semifinalists.
But this year, things are different. Now that the semi-finalists have been announced, the tasters, tasked with visiting the nominated restaurants, will help determine the finalists via a ballot, as will the subcommittee members and scouts who have been actively researching said nominees. The five semi-finalists with the most votes become the finalists, all of whom will be announced on March 16.
Once the five finalists in each category have been determined, an evaluation form will be sent to all Members of the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee and Tasting Panelists who will visit all finalists and rate their experiences based on a number of criteria.
The winners will be announced during the James Beard Foundation Award ceremony on June 13 in Chicago.
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