Portland chefs and restaurants barred from James Beard Awards

In a disappointment for a food-loving city, Portland’s chefs and restaurants went 0-5 at the annual James Beard Awards Monday night in Chicago.

The James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast went to a restaurant in Vermont, a chef from Arizona won the Outstanding Baker award, and Best New Restaurant went to Owamni in Minneapolis, leaving all five Portland finalists disappointed.

Jessica Sheahan and her husband Vien Dobui at their Vietnamese restaurant, Cong Tu Bot, on Washington Street in Portland on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer, File

The Best Chef: Northeast category, which covers chefs from all six New England states, included nominees Vien Dobui from Cong Tu Bot, Courtney Loreg from Woodford Food & Beverage and Damian Sansonetti from Chaval. Dobui was a finalist in this category in 2020, before the awards were canceled in August of the same year due to the pandemic.

This year, the Northeast Chef Award went to Nisachon Morgan of Saap Restaurant in Randolph, Vermont.

In the highly prestigious national categories this year, Portland Leeward’s restaurant qualified for tonight’s ceremony as the finalist for Best New Restaurant, ultimately losing to Chef Sioux’s Owamni in Minneapolis. Baker Atsuko Fujimoto of Portland’s Norimoto Bakery was named a finalist in the Outstanding Baker category, despite losing Monday night to Don Guerra of Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite the losses, Portland remains one of America’s top foodie cities. In 2018, Portland was named Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine. The city’s chefs and restaurants have since continued to garner praise from the national media.

Five Maine chefs have won Best Chef: Northeast awards since 2010, including Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor of Eventide Oyster Co. in 2017, Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland in 2013, and Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows in Ogunquit in 2010. Maine chefs and restaurants also earned 17 Beard Finalist nominations at this time. In 2019, the last year the Beard Awards were held until Monday night, Allagash Brewing’s Rob Tod won the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer award.

Over the past two years, when the Beard Awards were canceled, the foundation faced internal criticism that questioned, in part, its commitment to diversity. The James Beard Foundation has therefore undertaken an audit of its rewards program. The foundation’s website states that the objective of the audit was “to continue the work to eliminate any systemic bias; increase the diversity of the electorate; ensuring that communities around the world are aware of the awards and how eligible candidates can apply; increase the transparency of how rewards work; and aligning awards more outwardly with the mission and values ​​of the foundation.

As a result, when the foundation called for open nominations this fall, it required anyone submitting a nomination to include a statement explaining how that nominee’s work aligned with the awards’ missions, a first in the 36-year history of the awards. history of the organization. .

Writer Tim Cebula was previously a Beard Awards judge in the chef, restaurant and journalism categories.

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Sandy A. Greer