May 8, 2018 / 3:52 AM / a year ago

Female chefs get big serving of U.S. top food awards

(Reuters) - Gabrielle Hamilton, who runs Prune, a small American bistro in New York, and numerous other female chefs collected top honors on Monday from the James Beard Foundation, the biggest awards for the U.S. restaurant industry.

The theme of this year’s ceremony was “Rise” to reflect the social and environmental issues that chefs and other restaurant professionals support, including the #MeToo social media movement.

Known by its Twitter hashtag, #MeToo has highlighted sexual misconduct in business, sports, entertainment and politics while demanding greater respect for and representation of women.

Accusations of harassment or assault by female restaurant workers have forced several celebrity chefs, including Mario Batali and John Besh, to separate from the businesses they founded.

Attendees and participants at this year’s event held in Chicago wore pins stating what the Beard Foundation stands for, such as “equality” and “integrity.”

Hamilton, who also wrote a best-selling memoir, opened Prune in the East Village in 1999. It has earned a loyal customer base, while critics have praised her comfort dishes inspired by European and American influences.

Hamilton is only the sixth woman to win the top honor since the foundation established awards for chefs, restaurants and food writers in 1990.

The tide may be turning, however, as a woman has now received this annual award three times in five years.

“It’s the greatest party. I love this work,” Hamilton said during her acceptance speech.

Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama was named as top U.S. restaurant where its pastry chef Dolester Miles collected the award for best in her field. Highlands, opened by Frank Stitt in 1982, features his vision of U.S. Southern cuisine paired with classic techniques learned in France.

Seattle’s JuneBaby, which racked up accolades for its classic Southern cuisine, was named as the top new restaurant in the country.

Female chefs won four of the 10 regional chef awards overall.

Dominique Crenn, the only U.S. female chef with two Michelin stars at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, won best chef of the West. Nina Compton was named top chef in the South; Karen Akunowicz best chef in Northeast and Missy Robbins top chef in New York City.

Recognition of women was represented in other culinary disciplines as well.

Belinda Leong and Michel Suas were named outstanding bakers. The foundation also awarded Caroline Styne of The Lucques Group in Los Angeles as top U.S. restaurateur, while Camille Cogswell of Zahav in Philadelphia was named “rising star chef.”

Reporting by Richard Leong, editing by G Crosse

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