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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Are The James Beard Awards Snubbing Florida?

Michael LeGrand

Since 2010, only two Florida restaurants have been honored by the James Beard Awards — one was for its wine program.

Listen to the episode

If you’re a longtime Florida foodie, then you can probably rattle off the names of some James Beard Award winners from the Sunshine State. Here at The Zest, we’ve even been lucky enough to interview some of them: Art Smith, Michelle Bernstein and Carlos Frías, to name a few.

The James Beard Awards started in 1990, to recognize the country’s best restaurants, chefs, food writers and others in the culinary world. Florida competes in the Southeastern region, alongside states like Georgia and Louisiana. But since 2010, only two Florida restaurants have been honored by the James Beard Awards — one was for its wine program. The last Florida chef to win was Michael Schwartz in 2010.

At least one food writer says that’s no coincidence. Eric Barton is a Miami-based freelance journalist who writes about food for Flamingo, a Florida lifestyle magazine.

“I travel a lot, and so I know that Florida has a really great food scene,” Eric says.

In a Flamingo article, he cites a few reasons for the supposed snubs.

“One of them is that there is this decidedly anti-Florida bias in this country, and I think that people really love to hate on Florida,” says Eric, who spent two years as a James Beard judge. The committee comprises chefs, food writers, culinary instructors and others.

“A problem with the James Beard Awards is that if you’ve won the award, you get to vote in the next [contest] forever. At this point, there are a lot of judges from New Orleans, and they all vote for each other,” Eric says. “The chefs basically become judges for life, and so a lot of the winners may not even be in the food industry anymore, but they still get to be a judge.”

Each judge receives a ballot listing the nominees. But judges aren’t required to eat at or even be remotely familiar with the restaurants and chefs listed.

“New Orleans has a great food scene, but I think Miami at this point has a better food scene,” Eric says.

In a conversation with The Zest, he explains why the James Beard Awards matter for restaurants. He also suggests ways to make the voting more diverse and inclusive. And Eric offers his recommendations for Florida’s non-winners that deserve a second look.

Hungry for more? Check out our conversations with these Florida foodies who didn’t get snubbed for James Beard Awards:

"I host a food podcast" is a great icebreaker at parties.
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