For Atlanta’s food community, the 2019 James Beard awards gala was a night celebrating the city’s close-knit restaurant industry and ability to set aside culinary competitiveness for camaraderie with the huge honor bestowed upon Giving Kitchen as Humanitarian of the Year. It’s also the only award Atlanta brings home this year.
While Ryan Smith of Staplehouse was not named Best Chef Southeast, the award was still a big win for Georgia. The award deservedly went to Mashama Bailey of the Grey in Savannah — a restaurant garnering critical praise since it opened five years ago, including being named Eater’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year.
“I am very honored to be in this position,” Bailey says during her acceptance speech. “Just to be sitting amongst you all is amazing. We should all be very proud of ourselves. We are moving this country forward in the right direction.”
The Outstanding Bar Program award went to Bar Agricole in San Francisco — beating out both Kimball House and Ticonderoga Club — while Miller Union lost to San Francisco’s Benu for Outstanding Wine Program.
Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago took home the award for Outstanding Restaurateur over Atlanta and Athens chef Hugh Acheson.
But, the biggest win for Atlanta’s restaurant community is undoubtedly the moment Giving Kitchen accepted the honor for their tireless work over the last seven years. Work that includes providing financial assistance totaling over $2.4 million to nearly 2,500 food industry workers around metro Atlanta and Athens.
During the acceptance speech, spokesperson and co-founder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick recalls the day that sparked the idea behind Giving Kitchen.
Hidinger-Kendrick’s late husband, chef Ryan Hidinger, died in 2014 following a two-year battle with gall bladder cancer. He was 35. The Atlanta restaurant community, which Hidinger-Kendrick calls “the backbone of support”, rallied around the couple in 2013 and threw a benefit to offset the costs of Hidinger’s cancer treatments. The first Team Hidi raised over $300,000. Hidinger asked that the funds be used to “help others like me.” This year, Team Hidi 7 raised over $865,000.
“Help food service workers in crisis. Those six words, a directive from the lips of my late husband Ryan Hidinger, will always be at the heart of Giving Kitchen” - @JenHidinger of @givingkitchen, 2019 #jbfa Humanitarian of the Year pic.twitter.com/WldJqiDlHH— James Beard Foundation (@beardfoundation) May 7, 2019
“It all started with the love of one chef. The Atlanta food industry came together to take care of one of their own,” co-founder and Muss & Turner’s and Local Three owner Ryan Turner says during the speech. “It’s time to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first...[and it] can start with something as simple as taking one minute to ask someone, ‘how are you.’”
In what Giving Kitchen executive director Bryan Schroeder hopes to be the first step to becoming a full-fledge national nonprofit, he announced an initiative to provide free nationwide suicide prevention training in partnership with the QPR Institute for food industry workers throughout May and June. In addition to the training, Giving Kitchen also plans to provide harassment policy templates with clear reporting measures to restaurants and bars around the country.
Schroeder told Eater Atlanta last year, Giving Kitchen’s ultimate goal is to become a national nonprofit organization. It’s currently working toward serving the entire state of Georgia by the end of 2019 — a restaurant industry generating $19.6 billion for the state.
Over the two years Hidinger underwent his numerous cancer treatments, he and Hidinger-Kendrick were planning to open their dream restaurant — Staplehouse. The couple sat around the kitchen table one evening with Smith, now executive chef of Staplehouse, discussing the future of the restaurant and of Giving Kitchen.
“I want you to win a James Beard award,” Hidinger-Kendrick tells the awards audience of the discussion that night. “Being honored in this way [Humanitarian of the Year] is the sweetest way to see his legacy live on.”
Staplehouse opened in 2015 on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It was a James Beard Awards finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2016. All of the after-tax profits from the restaurant go to benefit Giving Kitchen.
Here is the full list of the 2019 James Beard award winners.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards