The James Beard Foundation is helping usher in a new generation of chefs, announcing this week that it will appoint two vegan chefs to its Legacy Network – a mentor-mentee program designed to connect established foodservice veterans with the next generation of the food industry. This year, the James Beard Foundation will invite two vegan chefs, Sadhana Raj and Melissa Guzman, to join the class of 2022 - 2023.

The James Beard Foundation partnered with bourbon brand Woodford Reserve to launch the Legacy Network last September. The educational program aims to promote the professional growth of Black American and Indigenous professionals in the food industry. The Legacy Network provides education and resources for underserved communities. The foundation appoints several advisors and advisees to work together to close historical gaps in resources and community.

“Legacy was developed as a response to calls for peer-to-peer networks and career support for emerging BIPOC leaders in our community,” Vice President of Community at the James Beard Foundation Colleen Vincent said when announcing the program. “This program is part of our continued commitment towards a more sustainable and equitable industry.”

Raj will join the Legacy Network as one of the mentors for the class of 2022 to 2023. The chef founded the Phoenix-based bakery and restaurant 24 Carrots. The vegan eatery closed its doors in December 2021, but Raj intends to help younger chefs learn from her 13 years of experience.

Joining the class of advisees, Guzman hopes to better inspire customers to incorporate more plant-based foods. Guzman’s Miami-based food truck, The Caribe Vegan, serves Latin-inspired classics such as Spanish-style quinoa & beans with vegan fish and plantains or Fried Jamaican dumplings stuffed with oxtail-style “meat.” The chef aims to change consumers’ minds about vegan food and island cuisine, using plant-based versions of her family’s recipes.

The James Beard Foundation previously recognized Guzman’s plant-based cooking, awarding The Caribe Vegan the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans Grant last year. The grant is given to promote Black-owned or Indigenous-owned businesses.

“Support from my community means the world to me,” Guzman said after receiving the James Beard grant in 2021. “This has been hard, you know, so to see that so many people are rooting for me [and] just wanting to see me win, it means the world to know that me continuing to grow and me continuing to push is helping other people.”

James Beard Awards Recognize Plant-Based Cooking

The James Beard Foundation has historically supported the most innovative, creative chefs and restaurants, however, the foundation failed to recognize the potential of plant-based cooking until recently. Now, the foundation is incorporating plant-based cuisine and creators into the mainstream culinary arts. Over recent years, the foundation has awarded or acknowledged several food writers, authors, chefs, and content creators in the plant-based food scene.

This June, the James Beard Media Award winners included two inspiration vegan chefs. The foundation recognized Joanne Lee Molinaro, known as The Korean Vegan Alexis Nikole Nelson, who goes by the BlackForager. Molinaro also received the Book Award for Vegetable-Focused Cooking for her cookbook, The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen.

Michelin Awards Plant-Based Cooking Worldwide

Until last year, the Michelin judges would rarely glance at plant-based cuisine. However, the Michelin panel awarded 81 vegan and vegetarian restaurants Michelin Stars in 2021. The shocking spike signifies how the fine dining world is finally accepting plant-based cooking as an equal to traditional cuisines. Plant-based recipients include Milan’s Joia, Berlin’s Cookies Cream, Beijing’s King’s Joy, Los Angeles’ Le Comptoir, and New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

Michelin star holders such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White have acknowledged the potential of plant-based cooking. Both chefs even started introducing plant-based foods to their restaurant menus, including a 3-D printed steak at two of White's establishments. This July, Ramsay even shocked audiences, exclaiming that he "actually love[s] vegan food!"

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