Beard Foundation After the Scandal
On Monday night, the James Beard Foundation puts on its lavish, interminable awards ceremony (last year hosted by the veteran anchor Charles Gibson, and even this stalwart was visibly wilting by the end), this year to take place in Avery Fisher Hall. My disaffection for the Beard Foundation is second only to that of the bobbleheaded man, who decries their lack of attention to the men and women who actually do the work in this industry, and duly notes what all chefs believed but wouldnât dare say on the record for fear of offending the Giver of Awards. That for years the institution did little more than shake down chefs for free meals. This all came to a head two years ago when its former president was caught embezzling all that money raised by those chefs.
Nick Fox, a writer and editor at The New York Times, today rightly asks where does this tarnished organization stand? "Questions Linger for Beard Foundation."
The group, to their credit, has been trying to turn things around, making their financial statements easily available to the public and separating the awards from the foundation itself. Last year the group gave out $156,000 in scholarships. The current president, Susan Ungaro, earns $225,000. Ungaro said their whopping deficit had been reduced to $600,000, and would be further diminished next year.
I’m hopeful, but skeptical. In Fox’s story, the group’s chairwoman downplayed the importance of scholarships in favor of celebrating and nurturing America’s Culinary Heritage. Presumably meaning more Beard House dinners. Revered cookbook author, Barbara Kafka, slammed the organization two years ago as "an expensive dining club," but told Fox for today’s story "I think they can be trusted." Well, of course they can. They’re giving Kafka a lifetime achievement award on Monday. See, the awards tactic works! (I, alas, was not nominated this year. *sniff* I’ve been nominated a lot, and I can’t deny that it’s fun, though I’m vastly relieved not to have to sit through them again.)
I’d like to know exactly what it is they intend to do, beyond give themselves an expensive party once a year. More scholarships, I hope, yes, that would be a meaningful way to "nurture." More transparency in who is deciding the award recipients and how the decision-making process works. And a leadership that is more in touch with the important food issues of the day—which have never been more urgent or on view—as opposed to a leadership more interested in hanging with famous chefs and funding an expensive dining club.
Thank you, Eric Asimov!
The man who covers wines and spirits for The Times, Eric Asimov, couldn’t have said it more clearly or definitively today:
"A martini should be made with gin or itâs not a martini." And: "A martini is also not a martini without vermouth."
Asimov underscores the point on his excellent blog, The Pour.
And bartender and club owner Audrey Saunders, tasting gins with Asimov, went so far as to say that the current generation of tipplers have been "lobotomized by vodka." Too true!
Kim Severson’s very sweet, very fine story, about what she did when two students took her to task for a story she wrote, could only have appeared but for the blog. Another reason to be glad for blogs. Not to mention thoughtful journalists.