Yet with all the exciting chefs and innovative bar programs this city boasts, one thing has remained elusive in recent years: a James Beard Award.
The James Beard Foundation's annual award ceremony is the culinary equivalent of the Oscars. Winning a Beard is, for most chefs, the highlight of their careers. A Beard Award — or even a nomination — can open doors for a young chef or restaurateur. Michael Schwartz, who won the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, explains that garnering a Beard can bring on an onslaught of opportunities. "You win," he says, "and you're a winner for life."
Each year, the Beard Foundation announces an open call for entries for its annual awards and receives thousands of submissions from across the nation. The nomination process for awards in the restaurant and chef categories is easy and free. To nominate your favorite Miami chefs, bar professionals, and restaurateurs, visit jamesbeard.org/awards now through December 2 to fill out a brief questionnaire.
From there, foundation representatives tally the entries, and judging begins. After deadlines close, various judging committees meet to review the entries, confirm eligibility, and make the first cuts.
Semifinalists for the restaurant and chef awards will be announced in February 2020. All award nominees will be announced in March, and the winners will be announced at the media awards dinner March 25 at Pier 60 in New York City. The James Beard Awards will be announced at the annual gala May 4 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.
Michael Schwartz believes the Miami food and drink scene is due for recognition. "The city has come such a long way. It will be ten years since I won a Beard, and that's the last time a Miami chef has won."
Still, Schwartz says, there's more to the Miami dining scene than winning accolades. "It's more about the big picture. If we can continue to grow, good things are going to happen. There are so many talented chefs, and the city's mixologists are at the top of the world game."
Schwartz says he would like to see the city's dining scene move further up the ladder, but he thinks what makes Miami an attractive place to visit and live might also be the reason it isn't known for its food scene. "There's a lot of attention paid to nightlife and the beaches. That's what people come to Miami for. Maybe the dining scene takes a back seat," he surmises.
He believes a chef bringing a Beard home to Miami would be great for the community. "This year, we'll likely get a few nominations; maybe we make it to the finalist stage. Win or lose, we can celebrate the people who got there." The venerable chef would like to see more positive reinforcement for our local culinary community's achievements and less "sour grapes" if Miami doesn't take a top prize.
That kind of attitude — which celebrates the culinary community as a whole — is one that's being nurtured more than ever throughout Miami's hospitality community. And that solidarity, more so than any award, is what makes a truly great food city.
Of course, there is the thrill of knowing your peers have recognized you for skill, hard work, and dedication that comes with winning a Beard. So to repay the chefs, bartenders, and restaurateurs who've given us memorable meals and wonderful experiences, take a moment to visit jamesbeard.org before December 2 and cast your vote for your favorites. As Schwartz says: "It's important to be part of the conversation."