James Beard doesn't get to give out all the awards. Not anymore. The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts is launching a new award to honor a culinary leader.
The first annual Julia Child Award, as described by the foundation, is meant to "honor an individual who has improved how Americans think about what they cook, eat, and drink."
In a statement, the foundation explains the reward was created to "encourage people to cook for themselves, to better understand where food comes from, to value eating and drinking and the importance that both can play in improving the quality of life."
Guy Fieri is probably not on the short list.
Of course, Alice Waters comes to mind immediately. But there are so many other worthy contenders in this food-obsessed country that the list must be very long. Award director Tanya Wenman Steel consulted with the jurors to compile the long list which has since been winnowed down to 10 names. It will have to halved again before the judges meet in June in Washington. That's when, Steel explains, "we're all going to sit and weigh the pros and cons and come to a consensus."
It's an annual award, so there's always another chance. And if you consider the kind of person the award wants to honor, the list ends up not being as long as you might think. According to Steel, they're seeking "someone who has tremendous integrity, has been a great educator not only for the public but peer to peer, a mentor, as well as someone who has fostered an independent mind and has been a leader."
Who picks? An eminent panel of five that includes Jim Dodge (director of specialty culinary programs for Bon Appetit Management Co.), Darra Goldstein (food scholar, cookbook author and professor of Russian at Williams College), Russ Parsons (food columnist of the Los Angeles Times), Nancy Silverton (co-owner of the Mozza restaurant group) and Jasper White (owner/executive chef of Jasper White's Summer Shack restaurants in Massachusetts and Connecticut).
We'll have to wait until Julia Child's birthday on Aug. 15 for the winner to be announced. And it won't be until Oct. 22 before the foundation presents the award in association with the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History at a gala during the Smithsonian's inaugural American Food History Weekend in Washington.
Julia Child may be closely associated with Boston, where her influential television series "The French Chef" was produced and shot in the '60s and '70s — and where she lived for many years. But her kitchen with its pegboard traced with the outlines of where each pot and pan should go has been installed in a place of honor at the National Museum of American History. It looks as if she just stepped away from the stove for a moment.
Remember, too, that Child grew up in Pasadena and spent her last years in Santa Barbara, which honors her each year with a Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend that benefits the Julia Child Foundation.
The winner of the award will receive a $50,000 grant from the foundation to be awarded to a food related nonprofit of the recipient's choosing.