Friday, October 22, 2010

The White House & The James Beard Foundation

New Leadership Award series from America's foremost culinary organization reflects best aspects of Obama administration food initiatives, honoring work in child obesity, farming, food policy, food literacy, social responsibility...
Chefs who have been honored with the annual awards from the James Beard Foundation, known as the Oscars of the food world, are the best in America, if not the world. So it's not a coincidence that many of the guest chefs who have been invited to the White House in the last two years are Beard Award winners and nominees (a list, below). On Thursday, Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass was once again up close and personal with Beard Award winners, when he spoke at The System on Our Plates, JBF's first annual national food conference, held in Washington, DC. (Kass, above, at Wednesday's Kitchen Garden Harvest)

The invitation-only event was attended by individuals who are working on sustainability initiatives in the food system in all areas, from farming through product transport and urban design, to what is served at restaurants. Kass ostensibly spoke about First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign and other Obama administration food policy initiatives; but his remarks, like the rest of the conference, were closed to press.

The (new) envelope please...
But one thing that happened at the conference was made public: Foundation president Susan Ungaro announced a new award series, The James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards, which is a pathbreaker among high-profile awards. It will launch in Fall of 2011, and is designed to recognize "visionaries" who are working on health, sustainability, policy and education initiatives with food. The ten award categories have many cross-hatchings with the most progressive elements of Obama administration food initiatives, including First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food project.

For instance, there's an award that could be called the Let's Move! award, which will honor "efforts to improve the nutrition of young people and end childhood obesity, from changes to school lunch programs to school garden initiatives and more." There are awards for farmers, too. Equally exciting, other awards will honor individuals who are working on food policy, food literacy, fair trade practices, and social responsibility. And, somewhat incredibly, work in food safety. Awards for food safety tend to be handed out by scientific organizations, or manufacturing associations. The new awards are a heady move from a Foundation that has not previously put the public spotlight on the political and policy aspects of the food system.

“For over 20 years, the James Beard Foundation has been awarding the most prestigious honors in the culinary world to chefs, restaurants, journalists, authors and media,” said Ungaro, in a statement. “In keeping with our mission to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future, we are proud to be launching a new series of awards recognizing leaders and visionaries in the business, government and education sectors of our culinary world.”

The full list of award categories, which will have five to ten nominees, annually:

*Efforts to improve the nutrition of young people and end childhood obesity, from changes to school lunch programs to school garden initiatives and more

*Initiatives that promote culinary literacy and more informed food choices

*Communications, advocacy and policy change on behalf of healthier food choices and more sustainable food systems

*Actions that bring urban families and rural farm communities closer together, from expanding farmer’s markets and farm-restaurant connections to community supported agriculture

*Academic research to advance our understanding of health & wellness and sustainable agriculture and fisheries

*Improvements in food safety, from agriculture to food processing, and the humane treatment of animals

*Advancement of fair food trade practices

*Alleviating hunger in the United States by improving access and affordability of good quality foods

*Leadership in the areas of fostering and preserving biodiversity, farming for flavor and bringing added value to the work of small and middle-sized family farms

*Institutional, foundation and corporate leadership on behalf of food-related social responsibility

The awards are being underwritten in part with a grant from the GRACE Communications Foundation. Winners will be announced during the second annual The System on Our Plates conference. Which raises the question: Is Mrs. Obama eligible for an award? And Kass and the other White House chefs? And Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the mastermind behind Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food?

James Beard Honorees at the White House...and beyond
The James Beard Award winning (and nominated) chefs who have visited the White House have been honored in many categories, from Outstanding Chef to nods for their cookbooks or TV series. Chef Daniel Boulud was the most recent Beard honoree to visit the White House, and his eponymous Daniel restaurant in New York won the 2010 Outstanding Restaurant Award. On Wednesday, Boulud joined Mrs. Obama at the 2010 Fall Harvest for the Kitchen Garden.

In September, the First Lady hosted a luncheon for UN spouses at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, chef Dan Barber's restaurant; he's a Beard honoree too, winning Outstanding Chef in 2009. Barber is also the only chef on The President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. (Above: Barber escorts Mrs. Obama through the herb garden at Stone Barns)

Chef Jose Andres seems to be constantly at the White House, and of course he's a Beard Award winner, as is another seemingly constant presence, Art Smith. Both State Dinner Guest Chefs, Marcus Samuelsson and Rick Bayless, are Beard Award winners, too. Chef Michel Nischan, who has been an adviser for Chefs Move to Schools, is a Beard hotshot, as is Todd Gray, who spoke at the June 4 White House launch of Chefs Move to Schools. Chef Cathal Armstrong is also in this category.

Other White House guests chefs honored by the Foundation include chefs Tom Colicchio, Bill Telepan, Nora Pouillon, Bobby Flay, Koren Grieveson, Michael Psilakis, Alan Wong, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, and Paul Kahan. White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, partnered with Flay, competed against Batali and Lagasse on last winter's special White House episode of Iron Chef America. Team White House won.

More on the James Beard Foundation
Founded in 1986, the James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating, nurturing, and preserving America's diverse culinary heritage and future. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, James Beard, who died in 1985, was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today, the Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by administering a number of diverse programs that include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships to culinary schools, and publications, and by maintaining the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs.