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Off The Wire
16 Pastry & Baking North America
spotlight on the best of the best practices in the culinary
arts in America. Our Foundation was names after the late,
great James Beard, who is considered the “Godfather of
American Cuisine.” Our mission is to celebrate, nurture
and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and
future. And we accomplish that several ways, most notably
through our James Beard Awards which began in 1991 and
our scholarship programs, as well as shining a spotlight on
great chefs who come to create fundraising dinners at the
Beard House over 220 days a year.
There is no doubt that by being headquartered in
James Beard’s former townhouse in Greenwich Village,
our Foundation plays a vital role in the New York City
community. We are certainly an important culinary
destination for chefs, who often compare cooking in James
Beard’s former home to a singer being invited to sing at
the Met.
You must become a very popular person in May of each
spring! What impact has the success of the awards show
and gala had on the foundation’s membership and brand
recognition? Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall is quite
a room!
There’s no doubt that our move to holding our annual awards
to Lincoln Center six years ago was a popular change. We
made a major statement to the world that celebrating our
culinary artists in New York’s most amazing musical arts
center was not only appropriate but important.  The move
not only catapulted our Foundation to a glamorous, must
attend event, but it also has helped us financially, as well.  Our
annual James Beard Awards are now a great fundraiser, too.
Known as the “Oscars of the Food Industry”, was it your
intent when you joined in the Foundation in 2006 to
bring the foundation, its mission and the annual awards
mainstream?
When I joined the Foundation six years ago, it was a
beloved, well-known culinary arts institution. My goal
when joining the wonderful staff I work with every day was
to help us raise our profile in America even higher.  It has
Emily Luchetti’s
Whoopie Pies
James Beard
Foundation Awards
25th Anniversary
No longer content with confinement
in their claustrophobic kitchens,
today, the pastry chef is the
breakout star of the culinary world.
Historically a back-of-the-house
outcast, pastry chefs now command
equal billings with their savory
brethren and have surged to the
media fore with an avalanche of pastry centric TV shows,
book deals aplenty and dessert only dining.
Although many a pastry chef is appreciative of the recent
spotlight, some question how long these good times will last.
But, if things ever revert back to the dark ages of steakhouse
exultation and molecular madness, all pastry chefs can take
solace in the fact the James Beard Foundation has had their
backs from its beginnings.
From plated desserts, savory desserts, alcohol spiked
desserts, twists on the classics, salted sweets, cupcakes,
macarons, deconstructed cupcakes to bacon gastro
doughnuts, AND, everything in between, the James Beard
Foundation has been there supporting pastry chefs as the
center of America’s culinary community.
A cookbook author and teacher, James Beard was
a champion of American cuisine who helped educate
and mentor generations of professional chefs and food
enthusiasts. Today, the Beard Foundation continues in the
same spirit by offering a variety of events and programs
designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper
understanding of our culinary culture. These programs
include educational initiatives, food industry awards,
an annual national food conference, Leadership Awards
program, culinary scholarships, and publications.
This year celebrates the 25th anniversary of the James
Beard Foundation Awards which recognizes culinary
professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields.
Held every May in Manhattan, the James
Beard Foundation Awards honor the best
and the brightest talents in the food and
beverage industries including the year’s
Outstanding Pastry Chef. Past winners
in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category
include Gale Gland, Francois Payard, Emily
Luchetti, and Johnny Iuzzini.
To get a clearer understanding of the
foundation and their annual James Beard
Awards show, we recently sat down with JBF
president Susan Ungaro and several past
winners of the Outstanding Pastry Chef
award.
Pastry & Baking North America: Explain
the JBF’s role in the North American food
industry. And, the significance of having
an iconic home base located in New York
City.
Susan Ungaro:
For 25 years now, the
James Beard Foundation has focused a