Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New York 'Shortchanged' on Beard Nominations, But the Southeast Scored, Times' Pete Wells Complains

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 4:04 PM

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In a commentary today reacting to the first round of James Beard Award nominations, announced yesterday, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells (who says he used to serve on the James Beard Foundation's nominating committee), argues that New York has gotten "shortchanged" as the committee tries to spread the love to other regions.

In particular, he notes that the Southeast region got five nominees on the Best New Restaurant semifinalist list (Lockeland Table in Nashville; Hog and Hominy in Memphis; Cardamom Hill in Atlanta; Mateo Tapas in Durham, N.C.; and The Ordinary in Charleston, S.C.) while New York got just one (Empellón Cocina). He adds:

Of course, any list like this entails hard decisions. The trouble with the list is that it doesn’t read like the product of hard decisions. Instead, it looks like the product of a committee made up of people determined to spread the wealth around the country.

Is this another harrumph of East Coast establishment against the sort of "it city" phenomenon that has given Nashville a popularity bump in the national media lately?

Wells, who says he left the awards committee when hired by the Times, acknowledges that he hasn't eaten at all 29 new restaurant semifinalists. He speculates that no single person actually has. So he won't name names. He just says that he finds the geographic spread a little curious.

Meanwhile, he quotes the chairwoman of the restaurant and chefs awards committee, Providence Cicero: "We like to see geographic diversity on the lists, but we put excellence first."

To me, Wells' argument seems reasonable, despite a delicate hint of sour grapes. Anybody else want to chime in here?

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