Celebrity chef Kwame Onwuachi—formerly of the late Wharf restaurant Kith/Kin—will host the 2021 James Beard Awards. The annual Oscars for the American restaurant industry will be held in Chicago on Monday, September 27. The event will be live streamed on Twitter (@beardfoundation) at 8 PM, and a DC satellite event will be hosted at Moon Rabbit, the modern Vietnamese restaurant in the space that once housed Onwuachi’s hit Afro-Caribbean dining room, for VIP chefs and James Beard winners.
The 2021 honors—which will adopt a new theme called “Stories of Resilience and Leadership”— will look different from its predecessors over the last 30 years, and not just because of the pandemic. Last year, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) abruptly announced that the traditional Restaurant and Chef Awards for 2020 and 2021 would be cancelled, even after winners were selected—not just the black-tie gala, but the honors themselves.
The foundation cited the global pandemic’s devastating impact on the restaurant industry, though New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reported ulterior motives in a lengthy exposé. Several honorees either dropped out or were removed due to “new allegations about their personal or professional behavior,” according to NYT. And despite a public initiative towards diversity and inclusiveness, the Times discovered that “no Black people had won in any of the 23 categories on the ballot,” a first for the awards.
After a year-long reckoning and audit of the organization, JBF announced a significant series of changes this week for the 2022 awards. They include the introduction of an ethics committee that is separate from the voting committee, more diversity and annual change in the voting body, and a wider call for nominees, among others.
Those interested in watching the Chicago Beards can stream the ceremony on Twitter. On October 25, Moon Rabbit will host the James Beard “Stories of Resilience and Leadership” event, this time open to the public, which includes a multi-course dinner from host chef Kevin Tien, Tim Ma of Lucky Danger, and Bakers Against Racism co-founder Paola Velez (tickets are $300 a pair).*
Since closing Kith/Kin in July of last year, Onwuachi has embraced a higher, more national profile. The Notes from a Young Black Chef author has appeared as a judge on season 18 of Top Chef, joined Food & Wine as an executive producer, and scored a cameo in the film adaptation of his memoir.He has a cookbook on the way next year, and has partnered with a slew of brands, including American Express, Oxo, Spotify, and Freshly.
*Correction: the October 25 event is separate from the James Beard Award watch party.