Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We put the winners in the envelope

I’m in Chicago to help in picking this year’s Silver Plate Award winners, the foodservice equivalent of baseball’s Hall of Fame inductees. Past winners have included such legends as Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, and Carl Karcher, his counterpart at Carl’s Jr. Danny Meyer won a Plate in the Independents category, as did Ella Brennan, the grande dame of New Orleans’ dining scene, and Jerry Berns, the soul of “21.” The list of past winners reads like a Wikipedia entry on who shaped the modern restaurant business into what it is.

The awards are presented by the industry’s trade group for suppliers, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, which must’ve been watching what the Academy has done with the Oscar Awards. It, too, has revamped the selection process this year, though only the judges will likely be aware of the alterations in the process. Suffice it to say the process has been streamlined, which allows us to spend more time debating the merits and worthiness of the candidates.

In the past, there’s been no shortage of “discussion” of the potential Plate winners, who are chosen by a combination of past winners and editors who specialize in foodservice coverage. So this year should be particularly spirited.

If the caliber of nominees is any indication, the revamp of the process is worth it. The field of contestants we’ll be discussing is among the most outstanding group I can remember from my many, many years of judging.

I can’t say more about who’s in contention, but I won’t be indiscreet in saying it’s a roster of true stars, with enough lesser-known but superbly qualified candidates to fend off any criticism that this is a popularity contest.

I’ll use this space to reveal the finalists after IFMA notifies them.

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