The woman behind the oscars of food

Sarah Hansen

photo credit: flickr

On May 2nd, the leaders in the world of gastronomy gathered for the annual James Beard Awards, considered by some to be the Oscars of the food world. At the event, only chefs and restauranteurs with nominations receive most of the attention. However, in a new article from Fortune, the woman who ran the show is getting some of the spotlight. 

Susan Ungaro was the boss that evening. She has been the president of the James Beard Awards for over 11 years now. Previously, the awards had been hosted in New York City. However, after nearly two decades, Ungaro decided to change to location to Chicago. The change of venue came as a shock to the events usual foodies, but Ungaro chose to do it for financial reasons.


The James Beard foundation had been in debt for many years when Ungaro took charge. The tourism office of Chicago persuaded Ungaro to move the awards to their city. However, this move came with strings attached: the city had to raise $1.7 million for the foundation. 

The reason for the foundation’s high demands is complicated. The previous president had been caught embezzling money, leaving the foundation in debt. It was up to Ungaro to fix the foundations future, and moving the awards to Chicago was a step in the right direction.

Ungaro said that the move to Chicago was successful. When the foundation left New York City, it never heard any words of regret from the city. However, cities across the country that are known for their culinary community have reached out to the foundation and asked for the awards to be moved to their cities. As of right now, there are no plans to move location in the future.

Instead of focusing on location, Ungaro is now focusing on improving the industry’s diversity. The foundation wants to avoid problems of racism that the Oscars recently faced. Ungaro says that although the foundation does not have a large say in who is nominated for awards, they do make sure to have a diverse group of people cooking and hosting the awards. She says that the foundation as well as the rest of the industry has a long way to go in improving these conditions.

To learn more about Susan Ungaro and the James Beard Foundation, click here.

Collegian Events Blogger Sarah Hansen can be reached online at or on Twitter at @Sarahhansen21.