Savannah chef Mashama Bailey took home a James Beard Award Monday night for Best Chef: Southeast. It was the second year in a row she was nominated in the category.
Bailey, the executive chef and partner at The Grey, beat out four others for the title, including Ryan Smith of Atlanta’s Staplehouse. She thanked her parents, The Grey partner John Morisano and her staff for the award, as well as her fellow nominees.
“We should all be very proud of ourselves,” she said. “We are moving this country forward in the right direction. I am a black girl from Queens, New York, and my most influential cuisine is Peter’s Kitchen Chinese take-out.”
“I ripped off all her fantastic tricks,” she joked.
Bailey is the second female of color to win a best chef regional Beard award. Last year, Nina Compton of Compère Lapin in New Orleans won in the Best Chef: South category.
Also representing Georgia was nonprofit Giving Kitchen, which was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year award for the work it does supporting the state’s food service workers in times of crisis.
Giving Kitchen spokesperson and co-founder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick, executive director Bryan Schroeder and board member and restaurateur Ryan Turner accepted the award following a video tracing the origins of the organization. Hidinger-Kendrick remembered her late husband, Ryan, who helped start the organization before his death in 2014.
“It was his words: ‘Use these funds to help others like me’ that started Giving Kitchen,” Hidinger said.
Giving Kitchen has provided more than $2.5 million in financial aid grants to more than 1,600 food service workers in Georgia since its inception, and created a “stability network” that provided access to community resources including counseling and financial resources to those in the industry.
Turner encouraged those in the hospitality community to “put the oxygen mask on themselves” first by way of recognizing the need for self-care.
“It can start with something as simple as taking an extra minute to ask someone ‘How are you?’ and mean it, and listen,” he said.
Schroeder also discussed Giving Kitchen’s plans to make QPR (question, persuade and refer) suicide prevention training available for free to every restaurant in the country.
“We challenge every person in this room to take this training,” Schroeder said. “I promise you, it will help the way you help someone in your kitchen confront the worst parts of depression and mental health. And after you take this training, encourage someone else to take it.”
Other Atlanta James Beard nominees included Ticonderoga Club and Kimball House in the Outstanding Cocktail Program category, Miller Union for Outstanding Wine Program and Hugh Acheson, who received a nod for Outstanding Restaurateur.
Bailey and the Giving Kitchen team celebrated with the night’s other winners in the press room after receiving their awards.
Hidinger-Kendrick, who confirmed that winning an award “feels awesome,” gave a shout-out to the restaurant workers of Georgia.
“We are so proud of you. We are grateful that you’re part of the foundation of getting Giving Kitchen into the hands, into the ears of people across America, and we are beyond grateful to be here.”
And what does Bailey plan to do after she returns home to Savannah this week?
“Run around with this medal, screaming, ‘We did it!,’ Bailey said, holding up the prize hung around her neck, emblazoned with James Beard’s face. “That’s my plan.”
A complete list of winners can be found on the James Beard Foundation website.
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