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Photo by Robert X. Fogarty
by Sara Bavar
“Do what you can, where you can, with what you have.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
If you’ve never heard of Katherine Miller, Vice President of Impact for the James Beard Foundation - take note. She is changing the parameters of the modern chef as the mastermind behind the Chef Action Network (CAN), in partnership with the James Beard Foundation and it’s signature training program, the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. The mission behind CAN is to provide chefs with a platform of support and networks to help bring out their inner advocate and invoke multifaceted policy change.
In addition to having spearheaded and developed social responsibility campaigns for TIAA-CREF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the United Nations Foundation - Miller was also named one of "The 2017 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink" by Fortune and Food & Wine.
Most recently, Miller has been using her voice in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement through the James Beard Foundation when they publicly acknowledged their lack of diversity and inclusion amongst their “all-White leadership team and an overwhelmingly White board of trustees.” The Foundation goes on to recognize the oppressive culture of the food and beverage industry towards people of color and has committed to substantial and sustainable changes to the organization and industry, in an effort to guarantee more inclusivity and the elimination of systemic racism.
DLISH was able to catch-up with Miller in late May and talk a little about what the industry will possibly look like post COVID-19 as well as what the James Beard Foundation is doing to help boost morale.
James Beard Foundation Stand with Black Lives Matter
Sara Bavar: What are some possible outcomes/dangers for the Food & Beverage industry post COVID-19?
Katherine Miller: The reality is that our industry has been changed forever by this crisis. Every restaurant has had to reimagine how hospitality manifests for every staff member, every farmer, and every customer. Reimagining how we operate is challenging but it is also a tremendous opportunity to build new business and new operating models that will be needed.
Dining is about fun, enjoyment, and nourishment, but it is also about trust. There are things that customers may want to see or restaurateurs may want to do to convey a sense of safety and security. Making people feel safe and making sure they are safe are both important. And everyone ought to be as careful as possible to make sure diners and staff are not put in harm’s way. Part of JBF’s efforts to develop a thorough health & safety protocol is going to be how we maintain the trust and comfort that diners have already had with the industry.
The Foundation is continuing to gather necessary resources such as our new reopening guide in partnership with the Aspen Institute and has committed its full staff and programs for the next 12-18 months to Open For Good, a campaign to support the recovery and rebuilding of an independent restaurant industry that is stronger than ever.
Chefs Boot Camp for Policy & Change James Beard Foundation
SB: The recent announcement of the 2020 James Beard Award Nominees will, no doubt, have a positive impact on raising the morale of the industry. Was this one of the driving forces for moving forward with the award ‘ceremony’?
KM: It was clear to us at the Foundation that those whose work in 2019 led them to be selected as a semifinalist—and perhaps ultimately a nominee or a winner—deserved the recognition they earned. Before we decided to move forward with this year’s Awards ceremony, we consulted several industry leaders who unanimously felt the Awards could offer a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time. Therefore, we decided to proceed with a virtual ceremony, announcing the nominees on May 4, the date originally intended for our 30th-anniversary ceremony and celebration in Chicago.
We were all united that we want every James Beard Award winner to have a chance to have their moment in the spotlight.
SB: Aside from donating to the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, what else can individuals do to support the industry?
KM: We can all do our part to support the industry. If you love the restaurants in your community, be sure to continue to order takeout from them during this time of transition back to dine-in eating. Make sure to keep buying gift certificates, t-shirts and products. Let the owners and staff know that you’ll support them when they reopen. You can also lend your voice in support of the policy changes that restaurants need to survive and rebuild.
The pandemic has shone a light on just how fragile the restaurant industry really is, especially for chefs of color and women.
The Foundation is committed to helping restaurants and chefs make it through this time. Encourage people outside of the industry to actively participate in the rebuilding process through education and sharing stories of those affected. It is important to note, that almost every old culinary culture has been through a pandemic, and people are still eating and sharing. There’s a resilience built in our need of commensality.
Click here to learn more about Katherine Miller and The James Beard Foundation