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At the beginning of the week, Y&H idly wondered if the very composition of the 400 James Beard Award judges would help explain the appearance of a Big Apple bias in this year’s winners. After all, of the nine national categories in which nominees can come from across the country, New York chefs and restaurants won eight.
Yesterday, Jessica Cheng, publicist for the Beard Awards, e-mailed and patiently explained the makeup of the 400 Beard judges:
I’ve checked with the Foundation regarding your inquiry about judges. There are 25 judges in each of the 10 regions (New York being one), which means that 225 are from outside New York. In addition, all previous winners in the Restaurant and Chefs categories are invited to vote. Again, out of the all the categories, 9 are from regions outside New York, and the rest are random according to the year. Also, if a winner has won multiple Awards, he/she only judges once, so they do not “add up”. But at any rate, there are more judges from outside New York than from New York.
Presumably, if I’m reading this response correctly (and I may not be), this means that 175 of the 400 judges could be from New York, depending how many Big Apple chefs and restaurants have won the national awards over the years (presumably far more than the rubes outside NYC). So while New Yorkers may not represent a majority of the voters, they still represent the largest voting bloc of the 10 regions —- by a long shot. Unless someone in the hinterlands has the political skill of Barack Obama to build consensus among all voters, these outer-outer-outer borough bumpkins (I say that affectionately since I’m one myself) have a serious deficit to overcome.
But the numbers don’t explain it all, either. I’ve asked Cheng some other questions to determine what’s asked of the judges. For example: Are they required to visit all the finalists in each category?
More as I know it.