Wokery gone wild: Now even the James Beard chef awards are contaminated with political correctness

The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the foodie world, and given that they are judged by journalists instead of other chefs, that has opened the door to political correctness taking precedence over how the food tastes.

According to Axios:

The James Beard Foundation's Restaurant and Chef Awards will kick off Monday night in Chicago amid a whiff of controversy over the enforcement of ethics policies.

Driving the news: Recent stories in the New York Times and Eater have spotlighted at least two nominated chefs who were investigated after the foundation received reports of ethics violations, including yelling at staff and patrons.

  • One of the chefs, Timothy Hontzas of Johnny's in Homewood, Alabama, says he was disqualified after an ethics review. The foundation declined to comment on specific investigations, which they say are kept confidential for privacy reasons.

Hontzas's sin?  He's a crabby old chef who yells at people a lot and throws plates.  Never mind about the food, not even on the matter of whether it was locally sourced and certified 100% organic.  Just the fact that he's a cranky old guy who cooks well enough to be a finalist in the prestigious culinary awards simply isn't as important as his God-awful personality, so no award for him.

Imagine if those "niceness" standards were applied to Hollywood actors or fine artists.  Nobody would qualify for another award again.

The problem is magnified with the ways the Beard Foundation uses to vet its chefs for fitness for the award.

According to the New York Times:

The chef Sam Fore received an ominous voice mail message this month from an unknown number. The caller identified himself as a private investigator working for the James Beard Foundation. Later that day, Ms. Fore found herself on a Zoom call, answering questions from him and another man.

"They said to me, 'We have an anonymous complaint we have to ask you about,'" she said.

Ms. Fore is a finalist in the James Beard awards, which for nearly three decades have been considered the most prestigious culinary honors in the United States, the so-called "Oscars of the food world." ...

In what she called "an interrogation," the investigators asked her about social media posts she had made on both private and public accounts. Someone had sent them to the foundation through an anonymous tip line on its website. 

The men told Ms. Fore that the posts potentially violated the organization's code of ethics — specifically that they amounted to "targeted harassment" and "bullying." ...

"I realize that my [diversity] presence is a good look for Beard, but I cooked my way across the country to get to this level," she said. "Now all I've done can be dismissed because someone on the internet called me a bully?"

That sounds pretty creepy.  The personalities of the chefs are now being investigated, by actual private investigators, instead of the actual food. 

The Times noted that it came about because of #metoo concerns.  But instead of focusing on just sex harassment, which is immaterial to whether or not someone is good at cooking food, actually, the enterprise has spiraled into a Mao-like struggle session, covering all matters of what the left views as civility, including whether a bad tweet was sent or a chef was rude to the waitress.  And like any Stasi police state, it involves secret informants whispering to the ruling class in charge of this award.  Imagine the potential for knocking out rivals this system has.  Ironically, the minority chefs who focus on non-French-derived cuisine, noted in the case of Fore, who is of Sri Lankan origin, are often the targets.  Eater mentions that there were other minority chefs, too.

What a pretty picture that has become.

Cooking is an art, and there are going to be artistic temperaments.  Some of the world's greatest fine artists, in fact, have had some of the world's worst personalities.  Pablo Picasso was a complete pig around women.  Let's not even get started about what Caravaggio was like, constantly getting into fights, crime, and dishonest activity.  Their art speaks for itself.  As for the bad personalities of some, well, markets have ways of sorting this out that the Beard Foundation does not.  If chefs are complete nightmares to their staffs, they won't be able to get good help.  Workers always weigh whether working for a fancy chef is worth putting up with his bad personality and make their judgments about whether to work for him or some other guy accordingly.

For the public, it's always about the product.  The fact that the public forgave Martha Stewart for her stock trading violations, which sent her to prison, and the fact that the voters ignored issues with President Trump's personality pretty well tell us that for ordinary people, the product is all that matters.  Martha Stewart's extraordinary excellence in homemaking is what consumers care about, and they sure as heck weren't going to give that up based on some rigged prosecution.  In the same way, Donald Trump's record as president, bringing prosperity to millions, mattered a hell of a lot more to voters than some mean tweet. 

One wonders what the great chef James Beard, who was the father of Northwestern cuisine and whose simplicity of technique, focusing on cooking the most perfect steak from no ingredients other than the steak, would think of what the foundation bearing his name has become.  Beard was focused on excellence, and only excellence, and nothing else.  I doubt he would have cared what other chefs' personalities were like.

If these awards are to mean anything, they've got to focus solely on who's the best chef and whose cuisine is the finest in the land, not which chef has the best personality, which can only bring about the gladhanders with the best public relations skills.  Is that the way to find out who has the best food?

That's the creepy corporatization of cuisine and utterly useless to the audience watching these awards, trying to learn which restaurant will be the next one to try and appreciate.

The Times notes that the Foundation's revenues went from $5 million in 2010 to $18 million in 2020, which pretty well says "corporate" all over it.  With corporatization come corporate values, including the need for cookie-cutter corporate men with just the right uniform social attitudes, which doesn't favor the wild innovators who often become the top chefs.  Now that they have gone that way, the only thing the audience will ask about this awards ceremony today is whether the chef who won the award got it because he was a nice guy or because he was really the best cook.

If the Beard Foundation absolutely wanted to stick with this, they ought to put out a chef with the best personality award instead of contaminate the cuisine awards by forcing chefs to pass some kind of niceness muster.

What matters is excellence, and this is a hideous new wokesterly assault on excellence.

Image:  Cullen328 via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0.

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