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November 19, 2019
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The James Beard Awards Redraws Its Map

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The organization is bracing for complaints from chefs who think their states, too, should be stand-alone regions. It has already heard rumblings from the Great Lakes region, which takes in a huge swath: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

“Some places in that category might feel overshadowed by Chicago, but if we make Illinois its own region, then it’s just Chicago competing against Chicago,” Mr. Davis said. “A collection of great restaurants can’t be the reason to create a region. There has to be some meaningful competition.”

In other changes, some states in the former West and Northwest regions will be combined into a new Northwest and Pacific region made up of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. The remaining states from the former Northwest region — Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — will join Colorado and Utah in the new Mountain region.

The Southwest region will now include Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Oklahoma. (Nevada had been in the West region.)

The changes are driven in part by hard numbers, but also by a desire to create a certain cultural cohesiveness, which Mr. Mitchell said is harder to measure. “We are not Italy and we are not China, which are filled with distinct culinary styles and regions,” Mr. Mitchell said.

Last year, the foundation made a seismic shift by creating a new set of criteria for judges, asking them to consider a restaurant’s values — whether it promoted diversity, sustainability, equality, respect and transparency.

The result, in May, was a list of nominees and winners that looked radically different. A record number of women chefs were honored, and for the first time, barbecue restaurants, noodle shops and fancier restaurants with a global outlook were contenders in what had been largely a sea of expensive Eurocentric restaurants.


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