Food Industry

James Beard Awards Screw Latino Workers

Last night, as many of our loyal readers watched NBC's The Voice, ABC's Dancing With the Stars, and Travel Channel's No Reservations, a bit of a virtual battle was taking place on Twitter. Perhaps a few folks (likely from the culinary industry) tuned in to the live webcast of the James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony as well. Last night seemed pretty kosher for a Monday evening, in terms of entertainment.

Because Anthony Bourdain rarely misses an opportunity to make things extra-entertaining, he live-tweeted the awards ceremony (which is the Academy Awards of the culinary world) from Brazil. Tweet after tweet, he described the lack of recognition for the hard-working, often-undocumented Hispanics who toil behind the scenes at successful restaurants.

"Let's play a game. Count the Mexicans at the #jbfawards one.....two.....uh....." read the tweet that opened the floodgates for his outspoken disapproval of the ceremony.

Bourdain, we're with you 100 percent.

As you might have guessed, Bourdain received quite the response from followers -- some expressing approval, while others expressing utter disagreement.

Here's a quick recap:

6:41 p.m.: @NoReservations: Let's play a game. Count the Mexicans at the #jbfawards one.....two.....uh.....

6:51 p.m. @NoReservations retweets @julio_morro: we need to be recognized and have our name out there. We make up the majority of these restaurants.

6:54 p.m. @Productionmerc: @NoReservations now u went too far bro.

6:57 p.m. @NoReservations: @Productionmerc really? Who runs our restaurant industry? Who deserves recognition? Who gets none?

6:58 p.m. @NoReservations retweets @carlota70: @NoReservations Basically gringos would starve if it was not for us latinos...

7:00 p.m. @dejet2: @NoReservations who would you like to see nominated?

7:02 p.m. @NoReservations: @dejet2 I'd like see that ridiculous foundation spend some of those millions lobbying for the people who do most of the work in the industry.

7:13 p.m. @jrm9676: @NoReservations guess what makes up 100%???....human beings! My god this country is obsessed with skin color bean counting

7:15 p.m. @NoReservations: @jrm9676 when the majority of the people watching your back at work for 25 years are Mexican you tend to notice.

7:41 p.m. @NoReservations retweets @dailyblender: I think it's an unfortunate balance of chefs trying to make a name versus standing up for the quieter voices in the kitchen.

There are far more tweets and retweets of statistics and the like along the thread, but you get the picture.

The point is, Bourdain was unabashed (as usual) in pointing out the lack of Latino recognition in an industry that relies so heavily upon them. And he's right. When was the last time a Hispanic dishwasher was awarded, or even recognized for that matter? If those nitty-gritty jobs aren't that important, could restaurants function without them?

Want to recognize the chefs and the sommeliers and the authors who drive the food industry? No problem! Have at it. Their talent likely deserves the attention. But so does hard work. Remember, the finest train in the world cannot run without the proper wheels, much less without the proper workforce to build the tracks on which it runs. That goes for all Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, Eastern Europeans, and any other race or ethnicity that falls short of the limelight in the culinary community.

That's not to say the big names can't be Hispanic, African-American, Asian, etc. In Miami, we have tons of big-name chefs and restaurateurs who are of Latino descent (namely JB Award winner Michelle Bernstein; acclaimed Chopped winner Giorgio Rapicavoli; Oscar del Rivero of Jaguar, Peacock Garden Café, and Talavera; Douglas Rodriguez of De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean; and plenty of notable others). It just means the vast majority of the jobs that those races typically encompass within the industry are rarely (if ever) recognized, awarded, appreciated, given a fancy gala ceremony, etc.

We can't speak for Miami specifically (because, sadly, Hedy Goldsmith did not win Outstanding Pastry Chef), but the showcase of faces at the James Beard Awards ceremony speaks far louder than any stinging word we could come up with for such a mockery.

What's worse, the foundation aims to exemplify the country as a whole. It says so in big orange letters on its website: "The James Beard Foundation's Mission is to celebrate, nurture, and preserve America's diverse culinary heritage and future." Big news, according to the US Census Bureau, yesteryear's minority is rapidly gaining speed to double by 2050 (see Table 6). That sounds like a future to us. And last we checked with Webster, the term diverse means "differing from one another."  Except a few attendees here and there, who exactly "differed" from one another in the sea of nominees and award winners last night in terms of occupation and race?

We challenge you, James Beard Foundation (or anyone in the industry, for that matter), to create award categories for the unsung people in those kitchens -- the people you and others have made millions off of.

And if you think creating categories for "the little people" singles out minority groups around the country, thus implementing reverse equality, think again. As Bourdain said on Twitter, "never saw [a white kid] in 25 years come in for a DW or porter job." Of course, that doesn't speak for everyone, but it does speak for many.

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Alex Rodriguez