In the end, six Colorado finalists for the 2020 James Beard Awards won’t find out this year if they won top prizes.
The James Beard Foundation on Thursday announced that its annual award ceremony, considered the Oscars of the food world, will shift focus to honoring previously announced winners only. The event had already moved online this year and was postponed from May to September.
Colorado restaurants and producers who were nominated included Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine, for Outstanding Restaurant, and Todd Leopold and Scott Leopold of Denver’s Leopold Bros. for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Producer.
Four local chefs — Carrie Baird, Caroline Glover, Dana Rodriguez and Kelly Whitaker — were also in the running for the regional Best Chef: Mountain award which encompasses Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
Glover, of restaurant Annette in Aurora, said Thursday’s news was bittersweet.
“I think it’s the right call,” she told The Denver Post. “We should be focused right now on saving restaurants from the impacts of COVID-19 and giving the industry a fresh start. At the same time, it hurts. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry a lot last week over the thought of the awards being canceled.”
The Foundation said that announcing new winners, when restaurants around the country are struggling to stay in business, seemed wrong.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a release. “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.”
For an idea of the severity of the situation, The Independent Restaurant Coalition predicts that up to 85% of the country’s small operators could close permanently as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reichenbach also clarified that the 2021 Awards ceremony, which would have reflected work done in 2020, won’t be operating as usual, either.
“Instead, the 2021 ceremony will be a celebration of the independent restaurant community who have shown leadership during this crisis and honoring those who have made a significant impact on the industry and in their communities,” the release said.
Denver’s El Taco de Mexico is one such honoree from the Foundation’s previously announced 2020 awards; it received the prestigious America’s Classics Award back in February along with five other restaurants across the U.S. It will be celebrated at the Sept. 25 live Twitter broadcast of the planned award ceremony.
Following a night of celebration and reflection, according to the release, the James Beard Foundation will step back and “take stock” of the current situation, focusing on “addressing inequities in the industry going forward.”
“We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them,” Reichenbach said.
Subscribe to our food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news sent straight to your inbox.