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Beard Foundation denies awards ‘turmoil’

The James Beard Foundation is trying to save the reputation of its prestigious annual awards after accusations of financial mismanagement at its Manhattan headquarters.

In a letter to the culinary industry, the foundation denied the awards were in ‘disarray’ or ‘turmoil,’ as The New York Times had reported.

‘We are moving forward as planned with the 2005 program’, which includes the million-dollar awards ceremony next May, it said.

The letter, signed by George P Sape, chairman of the foundation board, and awards director Melanie Young, said the awards were not part of a probe of the foundation by the New York State attorney general.

‘For the most part,’ the foundation said, procedures governing its awards ‘have been established and overseen by independent committees of industry professionals. The entry process and ballot tabulation have always been conducted by an independent accounting firm.’

Nonetheless, the foundation’s image has been damaged by reports that an audit had found that Leonard F Pickell Jr, who resigned as board chairman afterward, had misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in foundation funds. He has denied the allegation.

Further, the foundation has acknowledged that of US$4.7m taken last year, only some US$29,000 had been used for scholarships, a sum that surprised many supporters.

At least seven members of a committee responsible for awards to chefs and restaurants have resigned. They include Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, RW Apple Jr, an associate editor of The New York Times, and S Irene Virbila, The Los Angeles Times’s restaurant critic.

New York Times food writer Julia Moskin wrote recently, ‘Many chefs believe that the awards are a good-conduct medal for those who donate to the foundation, although the organization says the prizes have nothing to do with what a chef does on its behalf.’

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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