BREAKING: Beard committee member quits over transparency concerns
Resignation follows Birmingham chef's disqualification
Citing concerns over transparency, the South’s representative on the James Beard Foundation Restaurant & Chef awards committee on Thursday night resigned from the group.
Todd Price, who covers Southern food and culture for The USA Today Network, stepped down after AL.com reported that Best Chef-South finalist Timothy Hontzas was disqualified from the awards competition. Hontzas’s disqualification followed a James Beard Foundation investigation into an anonymous tip that he had yelled at an employee and guests at his Birmingham restaurant, according to AL.com, which cited an email that Hontzas provided to the outlet.
The James Beard Foundation declined to address the matter after rumors of the disqualification started circulating on social media. According to committee members, foundation representatives never alerted the committee to the investigation or its outcome.
“The leadership has given us almost nothing,” said one committee member. “All we’re getting is ‘We’re not going to comment on this.’”
According to the Foundation’s Code of Ethics, “the foundation may disqualify or take action against an Entrant, Semifinalist, Nominees, or Winner without publicly announcing the Foundation’s decision or making changes to any previously announced list of Semifinalists, Nominees or winners to reflect disqualification.”
It’s unclear how many of the people named on the voting ballot and set to be celebrated in Chicago on June 5 have already been linked to ethical violations or accused of the same. The Food Section has learned another Best Chef finalist is under investigation for alleged online bullying and harassment. The finalist has complied with investigators and is awaiting a ruling.
Price, who has served on the Restaurant & Chef committee for two years, said he has no objections to investigations being conducted by the independent ethics committee without the award committee’s knowledge. But he takes exception to not being notified of the determination before it surfaced in the press.
“I personally was pretty surprised to start fielding calls and not have been given a heads-up, since I am the person in the position of being the face of this region,” Price said in a phone interview.
While generally regarded as curmudgeonly, Hontzas is deeply admired in his hometown and is a longtime friend of many past Beard award winners, including John Currence of Oxford, Mississippi. Currence on Wednesday brought the food-and-beverage community’s attention to the episode by posting to Instagram a photo of his framed award smashed with a brick.
Hontzas did not respond to an email from The Food Section earlier this week.
Another previous Best Chef-South winner, Vishwesh Bhatt of Oxford, posted a picture of the wall from which he had removed his award.
Bhatt told The Food Section that he will not remove his James Beard-nominated cookbook, I Am From Here, from this year’s media awards competition because the project had multiple contributors, but has no plans to attend any James Beard events in Chicago.
Additionally, Bhatt has informed the foundation he will no longer serve as a judge. A larger group of judges vote on the Restaurant & Chef awards after the committee issues its semifinalist list.
“When I reached out to the Chairperson for our committee to ask what (Hontzas’) violation was, he had no knowledge of what I was talking about: It seems the powers that be do not think the folks who have been asked to carry out the task of voting deserve to know what is happening,” he wrote in his resignation letter, describing the lack of communication as “disrespectful.”
He concluded, “This pains me more than y’all will ever understand, but I cannot work with folks who only want me so they can fill their diversity quota.”
This is a developing story. Visit thefoodsection.substack.com for further updates.
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Great reporting, Hanna!
This was so good, Hanna!