James Beard Awards 2017 celebrate the best chefs, but where are the women?


Held in Chicago, the James Beard Awards 2017 celebrated the best and brightest in the culinary scene. But one question remains, where are the women award winners?

When you visit a city, what is the first thing that you plan? For me, it is food, restaurants and where to eat all those must have, delectable and can’t resist eats. Of course, the other highlights always come into play, but I have moved appointments and schedules to accommodate a restaurant reservation. When the James Beard Awards 2017 were announced last night, I watched, noted and planned my next food excursion.

Having found a home in the culinary forward city of Chicago, the James Beard Awards celebrate some of the best, brightest and innovative chefs, mixologists and restaurateurs in the nation. From regional awards to rising stars, the Monday evening event at Chicago’s Lyric Opera honored the culinary industry. And, since this event is about food, the evening featured bites cooked by some of the celebrated chefs.

But, this event was an award show, the award winners were what everyone was waiting to hear. Some of the award winners were expected and a few were surprising. The complete list of winners can be found on the James Beard website.

But, one notable issue remained, where are the women winners?

Don’t get me wrong, a few women did win James Beard Awards. Chicago’s Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde, won best chef Great Lakes. The queen of pasta secured her place in the culinary world. In the very difficult Chicago restaurant scene, Grueneberg is a powerhouse.

A few other women received recognition, too. Best pastry chef went to Ghaya Oliveria of Daniel in New York City. Rebecca Wilcomb, Herbsaint, New Orleans, won best chef South. Both the Humanitarian of the Year award and the Lifetime Achievement Award were awarded to women.

Still, the percentage of women nominated to women winning is low. Just one example, the Outstanding Baker category featured mostly women. The winner was a man. I applaud the octogenarian Mark Frustenberg, who won. He is deserving, but the lack of women representation is somewhat disheartening.

But, the James Beard Awards shouldn’t follow the Best Restaurants in the World list. A best female chef is an unnecessary condensing. Women in the professional kitchen deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments, not just their gender.

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After last night’s James Beard Awards, I have a new list of must visit restaurants and must try chefs from around the country. But, my priority visit list may look a little differently than others. Women chefs will be the priority over just the winners. Maybe next year, the list might look different.