Much has been said about the absolute lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees, which makes me turn to our region’s press-dubbed “Oscars of food,” The Elbys, which Richmond magazine created to celebrate the region’s dining community. Our food scene is one of the incredible strengths of our city, and that strength has brought national and international recognition.
This will be the fifth year that we are hosting the ceremony and party (other cities such as Washington, D.C., are well into year 30 and beyond), and net proceeds benefit local food nonprofits. This fundraising event is ticketed and open to the public. The Elbys are named for retired chef Paul Elbling, who now oversees the Little Sisters of the Poor’s French Food Festival. This year’s theme is Elbys en Blanc, a riff on Diner en Blanc™ in Paris, Atlanta and New York, and the Bal en Blanc in Montreal. We wanted to complement the Rodin exhibition, since the event is at the VMFA.
It has sold out four years in a row (including this year’s Feb. 21 event), and we might need to move to a bigger location next year. We have been tweaking the process every year, trying out new categories, trying to get it right. And we’re still not there.
In November, nomination forms (and then reminders) were sent to 85 regional food writers (publications that provide dining coverage), a host of prior nominees and winners, industry professionals and instructors. We received 45 back. Richmond magazine’s full-time staff does not nominate. We bring in judges from outside Richmond to determine the winners. Nominations are wide open. In D.C., a restaurant association runs the awards and restaurant nominees must be association members.
So, how did this year’s nominee diversity play out? A handful of diverse candidates and minority-owned businesses, but far from enough.
What can we do for next year? We will bring back our neighborhood restaurant category and bring back a people’s choice category, too. We will also expand the nominating pool to 100.
We’ve stayed away from including a “world cuisine” category, with the thought that great food is great food, so why use this label? But maybe that thinking was flawed.
Our Richmond restaurant dining crowds are often not reflective of our city’s demographics, and we need to work together to bridge the divide, something that chef and Lifetime Achievement nominee Jimmy Sneed has often discussed with me. Online editor Samantha Willis and I have talked about organizing a restaurant week-like event in January or February that would focus on black-owned restaurants throughout the region. (Did you know there are more than 50 in our area?)
Bridging this divide also comes from covering all facets of the dining community, which we try to do in Richmond’s monthly dining section, our food cover stories and in our online coverage. It also comes from hiring writers of diverse backgrounds, and we are always looking for freelance food journalists. Our food editor, Stephanie Breijo, would love to hear from you. Here’s a food-for-thought piece that a friend recently posted on her Facebook page just last week. The list practices mentioned in the article do not apply at our magazine.
The planets in the universe align from time to time, and I’ll be speaking on a panel about diversity in the workplace on Thursday through the Chamber of Commerce’s EWX series. I’d love to hear your thoughts and share them next Thursday.