We here in L.A. have long felt shafted in terms of recognition for our thriving culinary scene. In recent years that has started to abate, as national magazines and roving critics call L.A. the best dining city in America. But the givers of awards — and in particular the James Beard Foundation — have yet to reflect that changing attitude with actual awards.
Last month I wrote about how it's really up to us, as Angelenos, to rectify the situation. I still believe that to be the case. But that doesn't make our dismal showing in this year's Beard nominations any less depressing.
How dismal? We knew yesterday when the nominations came out that very few Los Angeles names were among the nominees. This morning a story out of New Orleans caught my eye, one that celebrated the fact that New Orleans had the highest number of nominees per capita. I was almost scared to click on it, and when I did, a graph that writer Todd A. Price put together confirmed my worst fears: L.A. is dead last in Beard nominations when they're measured by this metric. Houston, too, fares dismally, though L.A. is marginally worse off. How is this possible for “the best eating city in the country”?
There are many reasons. One is that not nearly as many food tourists travel here compared with places such as New Orleans, San Francisco and New York. That means fewer Beard judges are coming here specifically to eat. I don't know for sure, and these are generalizations, but I'd bet things like Disney and Hollywood are what most L.A. tourists seek out. We also don't excel at the type of high-end dining that the Beards have traditionally recognized. But that is changing: This year the James Beard Committee put forward Baroo and Night + Market's Kris Yenbamroong as semifinalists, but those didn't turn into nominations.
This is only one of many ways to look at how badly L.A. does with the Beards. Last year, Russ Parsons pointed out in the L.A. Times that David Chang's New York City empire alone has won more awards than all of Southern California. This year, that group again has two nominations.
The sad thing is that these things tend to be self-reinforcing. The fewer Beard winners L.A. has, the fewer food tourists will feel as though this is a city they can't miss. Which means that fewer Beard judges will be voting for us in the future. And so on and so forth.