Alex M. Susskind, an associate professor who teaches restaurant management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, considers these four winners as representing a sea change in how African-American chefs are viewed in the industry. “It shows we’re getting talent from all places. The traditional white male stodgy French chef, who worked throughout all of Europe, is a thing of the past,” he says.
Susskind also cites that it’s no coincidence that three of the chefs cook in the South in New Orleans, Charleston, and Birmingham. “Those are highly recognized places that people go to for amazing food,” he says.
In past ceremonies, minority chefs haven’t won this many awards, says Eden Hagos, the 28-year-old Toronto resident and founder of BlackFoodie, a blog that explores food from a black perspective. But many African-American chefs in the past laid the foundations for excellence in cooking, though many were unheralded, she says.
Hagos sees the confluence of minority winners as “serving as an inspiration for the younger aged who are considering going to culinary school, or opening up their own restaurants, or developing products in the food space. Representation matters. When you see someone who looks like you receiving this acclaim, it drives you to push harder and go further.”
And Vallery Lomas, who competed on the Great American Baking Show, runs the Foodies in New York blog, and presented the baking award at the 2018 James Beard Award ceremony, says: “There have always been great African-American chefs, but to be recognized for such high levels of cuisine and good food, one would hope it would be a game-changer.” She says the diversity of food overseen by the winners, encompassing Southern food by Jordan, French food with a Caribbean flavor by Compton, and barbecue by Scott.
Becoming chef and owner like Jordan and Compton requires access to capital, and that has been a stumbling block for many minorities to attract. Yet Fernandez notes that a number of new African-American owned private-equity firms have been cropping up to offer funding for minority-owned eateries. Moreover, many minority chefs turned entrepreneurs secure funding from loyal guests, who are doctors, attorneys, and entrepreneurs who know and trust the chef. Often the chef partners with a collaborator with a strong business sense in order to succeed.