Food And Drinks

Orlando meals critic Scott Joseph has publicly left the James Beard Basis, and I am right here for that


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  • Image courtesy Visit Orlando

  • James and Julie Petrakis, Henry Salgado and Hari Pulapaka were semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards 2014. Neither of them was on the finalist list.

Every year I go through the same four-month emotional cycle when the list of James Beard Foundation Awards known as the “Oscars of the Food World” is published.

First, cautious optimism when the list of semi-finalists is released in February. There are usually a few Central Florida talents out there: Scott Hunnel (Victoria & Albert’s), Hari Pulapaka (Cress), Kathleen Blake (The Rusty Spoon), and James and Julie Petrakis (The Ravenous Pig) are the usual well-deserved suspects to be honored in the Best Chef category: South.

Then, in April, disappointment and frustration when the finalist list is published and none of our chefs make the cut. This inevitably leads to disgust and apathy when I ponder the Beard Foundation’s methods of awarding it. My inner voice inevitably whispers: “Who are these hifalutin, ivory tower, New York food snobs who tell us that we don’t have good enough restaurants for their stupid awards anyway?”

I know that I am not alone with these feelings. The chefs involved and many others in Orlando’s gastronomic firmament are certainly just right.
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But this post is not about me. It’s about Scott Joseph and the absolute lambasting he gave the Beard Foundation this week, while also announcing his split from the most revered culinary nonprofit in the country. Joseph, formerly the Orlando Sentinel and the longest-serving and best-known food critic in the area, announced that he was judge for the foundation’s annual awards (totally against the rules) and then explained his reasons for leaving office.

His epic “fuck this shit” blog post in the now ten-year-old Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide was clearly cathartic to many, based on the Facebook comments he received. I wish the post had taken another 1000 words. Also, I’m tired of seeing our chefs and restaurants, who are certainly among the best in the country, constantly being passed over while the Beard Foundation likes to sell their names for money.

In 2014, they were even delighted to take Visit Orlando’s money to publicize the semi-finalist list on the East End Market. I was there. It was surreal and exciting.

And then none of our nominated chefs (including three of the chefs listed above) made it onto the finalist list.

As long as the voting rules stay as they are – judges must eat in the restaurants they vote for (meaning, if a judge hasn’t eaten in a restaurant, he can’t vote for it), the status quo will remain in place.

As Joseph points out, when Visit Orlando recently announced a record visit in 2018 (75 million!), So few of the JBF judges are unlikely to have visited Orlando, and that Orlando is still the most-visited travel destination in the country. What is likely is that they will stay in and around the parks and not make up their minds to venture outside the confines of the tourist corridor to eat in Orlando or – even less likely – DeLand. So you really have no idea what Orlando can do, and neither did you bother to find out.

I’ve admired Joseph since looking at food writing as a career over a decade ago, though I don’t always agree with him or his methods (you don’t order a whole lazy moon pizza to take away and then check it out from home – that’s not how it works!). But after reading this week’s blog, I can’t wait to shake hands with him the next time I see him.

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Janet Smith