Behind the Cancellation of James Beard Awards, Worries About Chefs’ Behavior and No Black Winners

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In July, Jessica Koslow, a Los Angeles chef, sent a letter to the foundation withdrawing as a candidate for Best Chef California. Her reputation had been bruised by allegations that she had taken credit for others’ recipes, misled city health inspectors and allowed furry lids of mold to grow on pots of jam.

“Right now, my presence on the slate will only serve as a distraction,” she wrote.

On social media and in news articles, other nominees were accused of abusing, underpaying or mistreating workers. Additional accusations were made privately to the foundation staff.

Several restaurant committee members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that some of the allegations brought to them were so vague that they weren’t sure what the problem was. Lacking the time to investigate each case, the committee asked the foundation staff to follow up.

What happened next is in dispute. Committee members say they were waiting for more information about the allegations before making a decision. They also wanted the chefs to have a chance to tell their side of the story. But several chefs who received calls from the foundation say they had no chance to respond, and were given few details about what they were supposed to have done or who said they had done it.

Mr. Davis said that in deciding what to do about chefs who fell under suspicion, the foundation was guided by a recently adopted awards criterion that allows chefs to be disqualified for “allegations of criminal or unethical behavior, or behavior determined to be detrimental or contrary to the integrity and fair perception of the Awards.”

If he or someone else from the foundation called a chef, Mr. Davis said, “we felt there was enough information to meet our eligibility criteria, which was about the reality that there is some controversy brewing that might affect the integrity of the awards.”

Told that several chefs felt they had no chance to respond to the information against them, Mr. Davis said, “In questions when people in power are challenged in ways that might undermine that power, not enough weight is given to those who are making those challenges.”

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