James Beard Award finalists in NYC: Two-thirds of nominees are women in 2018

Two-thirds of the New York City chefs named finalists in the James Beard Awards are women, according to a list released Wednesday.

Awards organizers named a total of nine local chefs as finalists for one of the country’s most notable accolades in the restaurant industry.

The female contenders up for recognition as the nation’s top culinary professionals are: Dianna Daoheung, executive chef at Black Seed Bagels, in the outstanding baker category; Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of the East Village’s Prune, in the outstanding chef category; Clare de Boer, chef at Hudson Square’s King (rising star chef of the year); and Amanda Cohen of Dirty Candy, Missy Robbins of Lilia and Jody Williams of Buvette Gastrothèque (best chef in New York City).

James Beard Awards judges — experts in their fields who aren’t employed by the foundation or on its board — have previously recognized Hamilton’s New American fare, Robbins’ housemade pastas, Williams’ small French plates and Cohen’s vegetable-centric dishes as noteworthy contenders.

But their high-profile salute to six women chefs in New York City comes in 2018 amid broader discussions of the limited representation and acknowledgment of women in professional kitchens across America, as well as the widespread incidence of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

In an essay for Esquire in November, Cohen herself described women as “second-class citizens in the restaurant world.

“We have less access to investors and are perceived as less profitable investments because, in large part, we have smaller profiles than male chefs,” she wrote. “We get nominated for fewer awards, our restaurants get reviewed less often, and we get less press coverage than men.”

Critics have observed that the Michelin Guide, the gastronomic bible assigning highly coveted stars, has repeatedly overlooked widely acclaimed restaurants led by women, including Lilia and Prune. Women chefs lead only six of the 72 starred restaurants in the 2018 edition.

Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano, a James Beard Award winner who oversees the competition’s judging process, noted “a strong showing of female nominees in the New York region this year.”

The results show that the judges and volunteer committees who are involved in the Awards voting process are reflecting a real shift in the industry,” she said, adding that while James Beard Foundation employees and trustees cannot vote, they are addressing gender imbalance in the restaurant industry by spearheading initiatives like the Women in Culinary Leadership and Women in Entrepreneurial Leadership programs.

“Culture shift takes time, but as an organization that people look toward to shape cultural norms within our industry, we feel a responsibility to drive real impact,” Quatrano said.

James Beard Award winners will be named on May 7, at a gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

At least one chef was ecstatic about attending this spring: “I’m a freaking finalist!!!” bagel maker Daoheung wrote on Instagram Wednesday morning. “Holy s — t!! This is too insane, going to the gala!! Watch out Beyoncé!”

Other female New Yorkers to be named finalists for the 2018 culinary awards include restaurant designers Amy Morris, Anna Polonsky, Julie Nerenberg, Paulette Cole, Amy Ilias and Maya Nakano.

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