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Add this to the list of COVID-19 cancellations: The James Beard Foundation won’t be announcing winners this year. And it won’t be giving out awards in 2021, either. Considered the highest honors in the food and beverage world, the James Beard Award winners were set to be announced on Friday, September 25. Colorado had six finalists: Leopold Bros for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Producer; Frasca Food and Wine for Outstanding Restaurant; and four contenders for the Best Chef: Mountain category, Carrie Baird for Bar Dough, Caroline Glover for Annette, Dana Rodriguez for Super Mega Bien, and Kelly Whitaker for the Wolf’s Tailor.
“The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do. In short, an honor which we know is held in high regard, at the moment, feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement.
And because the awards reflect work done in the previous calendar year—i.e. the unprecedented and grueling COVID-filled 2020—the foundation canceled the 2021 awards as well. It will take the downtime to overhaul their awards policies and procedures to increase diversity in their nominee pool and remove systemic bias.
While the news is disappointing, our local finalists took the news in stride. “I think it’s the right decision,” Glover says. “I definitely feel like this is a time when we need to be focusing on our restaurants and getting through COVID and rebuilding. But in the same breath, it’s heartbreaking. This is a really big award ceremony that the whole industry looks forward to, in a time that there isn’t really anything to look forward to. This is just one more thing.”
“I’m sure it was a very tough decision for them, and I’m very supportive of that decision,” says Bobby Stuckey, owner and Master Sommelier of Frasca Hospitality Group. “As much as we’d like to have a break from the pressure of 2020 and get our minds off what we’re going through, at the end of the day there are too many of us suffering too hard.” Still, Stuckey can’t help but wonder. “Who knows? I’m very proud of the team that they were finalists. I find a lot of good therapy bussing the tables, so I’ll be OK,” he says.
One bright spot: El Taco de Mexico, already announced as a winner of the Foundation’s America’s Classics Award, will still be honored at this year’s virtual ceremony on September 25. The live Twitter broadcast will address the struggles the industry has faced in 2020 and spotlight winners in categories that were announced previously, including Lifetime Achievement, American Classics, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership awards.