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James Beard Foundation Postpones Chicago Awards Gala Amid COVID-19 Concerns

The foundation will move the awards to the summer

The James Beard Awards have called Chicago home since 2014.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The James Beard Foundation announced Thursday that it will postpone its annual awards ceremonies until summer due to concerns surrounding the new coronavirus. Widely considered to be one of the food and beverage industry’s most important yearly events, “the Oscars of the culinary world,” the foundation’s black-tie Restaurant & Chef Awards gala was originally scheduled for May 4 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia and Choose Chicago president David Whitaker issued a statement in support of the foundation’s decision to delay the awards, but still encouraged locals and tourists keep patronizing local restaurants and bars. They plan to work with Beard Awards organizers to find alternative dates in the summer.

“It is important to celebrate our country’s talented chefs and dining community, and the health and safety of all parties must come first,” they wrote. “We remain confident in the diligence of the City of Chicago and with few reported cases locally, it is important to keep our perspective while maintaining awareness of the issue. We encourage both Chicagoans and visitors to continue patronizing the diverse eateries and businesses that make up our vibrant communities.”

The delay also includes the foundation’s Media Awards, scheduled for April 24 in New York City; and Leadership Awards, slated for May 3 in Chicago. Organizers currently plan to announce nominees on March 25 in Philadelphia as planned. In February, the foundation released its “long list” of semifinalists, which included 19 Chicago restaurants, bars, chefs, and beverage professionals.

The foundation’s announcement comes as city officials and private companies cancel events large and small across the city. Mayor Lori Lightfoot canceled both downtown and South Side St. Patrick’s Day parades, along with the famous dyeing of the Chicago River. Nationally, the Beards join the NBA and NCAA in postponing or suspending major events.

The Beards are slated in Chicago through 2027, and the foundation has held the gala at the Lyric Opera since 2014.

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards.

This story has been updated to include comments from Sam Toia and David Whitaker.