The nomination of chefs Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush for James Beard Foundation Awards represented Hawaii’s first such nod in more than a decade.
But the foundation announced Thursday that it would not announce any more award winners this year or next, due to the pandemic that has forced restaurant shutdowns across the country and left the industry in shambles.
Kajioka said he respected the foundation’s decision. “Right now, it is not the time for celebration,” he said. “Our industry is dying right now. More importantly, we need to figure out how to get through this together.”
Kajioka and Rush, chefs and co-owners of Honolulu’s Senia restaurant, were nominated jointly in the category of best chef in the Northwest and Pacific.
The foundation’s list of finalists for the 2020 chef and restaurant awards was announced in May, with winners to be announced in September. That ceremony, to be held live via Twitter on Sept. 25, will go on, but will only honor previously announced winners in categories such as America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian of the Year.
The foundation’s chief executive, Clare Reichenbach, said in a statement that the full awards would return eventually, but that the honor “feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in.”
“The Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle,” the statement read. “The Awards’ usual positive impact on restaurants and chefs’ businesses will likely not be fully realized due to the current state of the industry.”
For decades, the Beard awards have been considered the Oscars of the food industry. But as more restaurants close, and bars and restaurants are identified as focal points for clusters of infections, the future of the industry is precarious.
In addition, conversations about racial justice have inspired calls for change in the food industry and sowed doubts about the lionization of powerful chefs. The foundation said it would conduct a review to examine and address bias in its selections of candidates and winners.
The New York Times contributed to this report.