Hey James Beard, what's with all of the Awards?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned by watching cooking competition shows on television, it’s that only losers don’t have at least one James Beard award to their name.

I had never heard of the James Beard award before I started watching Top Chef and initially I was pretty impressed when the award came up in someone’s bio. But like most things, I got a little less impressed each time I heard somebody else brag about their James Beard award. I’m starting to suspect that James Beard might be in league with the “American Tasting Institute” for doling out meaningless, yet fancy-sounding, food-related awards.

For an award to appear prestigious it requires three things: 1) it has to be well-known by the general public; 2) it has to be difficult to win; and 3) it needs to possess a hint of mystery. James Beard fails on 2 of the 3 counts: most people haven’t heard of it, and once they do, it seems like literally anyone can win one.

Perhaps that’s why the Michelin award is so respected in the food world. It seems very exclusive, Frenchy and enigmatic. I really like the idea of chefs being awarded Michelin stars, but there’s still a few problems:

1) Maybe in France Michelin stands for something cool and tasty, but in America Michelin stands for a creepy fat tire monster. Whenever Tom Colicchio talks about Michelin stars I always picture the Michelin man in a chef hat presenting the award – which makes it seem slighty less important but somewhat cooler at the exact same time.

2) Michelin stars are earned individually, as if the chefs were playing Super Mario Galaxy and collecting stars. Earning even one star is an impressive, career-making feat. Yet where I come from, one star is a really bad grade. And Michelin only goes up to 3 stars. Are French movies rated on a 3 point scale or something?

3) There aren’t enough Michelin stars awarded in the U.S. Now, I’m not saying that every Cheesecake Factory should get a star, but if people don’t have the opportunity to experience what a Michelin star tastes like, then they’re not going to really care about Michelin stars, making it a somewhat irrelevant award.

I was a cook for 7 years in high school and college and now I’m wondering if maybe I should have stuck with cooking as a career. I probably wouldn’t be a very good chef because I have the palette of a 4th grader and I hate fancy food, but I imagine that I’d have racked up at least 5 James Beards and a few Michelin stars by now. Oh well.

Then again, if I play my cards right, I might still be able to get an award from the American Tasting Institute.


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