The James Beard Award finalists were announced a little over a month ago, yet one nominee has now been disqualified from receiving the honor.
The Alabama-based chef Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant was notified on Wednesday that he had been removed from the running for Best Chef: South, AL.com reported recently. His dismissal came after an independent investigation into conduct that allegedly violated the James Beard Foundation’s code of ethics.
In an email to Hontzas, the group wrote, “Based on the review conducted, the Ethics Committee found it more likely than not that you violated the Code of Ethics. Following consideration by the Board’s Governance Committee of the Ethics Committee’s recommendation, you were deemed ineligible for an award this year.”
Hontzas told AL.com that he became aware of the allegations against him—including that he yelled at an employee and guests of his restaurant—about a month ago, and he participated in an interview with an independent investigator to discuss the claims. Speaking with the outlet, the chef defended himself, calling at least part of the investigation “absurd” and noting that many of his employees have worked with him for several years. (The James Beard Foundation told Robb Report that it does not comment on specific ethics matters.)
In response to Hontzas’s disqualification, chefs have taken to the internet in his defense. John Currence, a friend and mentor of Hontzas’s, posted to Instagram a photo of his 2009 James Beard Award smashed with a brick. “This one is for you, my friend [Hontzas] and everyone else who has been passed over as a result of bullshit, skewed reasoning and fake virtue-signaling by the spineless, rudderless, consciousnessless @beardfoundation.”
Similarly, the former Best Chef: South winner Vishwesh Bhatt posted an empty wall where he had previously displayed his James Beard medal. He told the Food Section newsletter that he also stepped down as a judge for the awards. “When I reached out to the chairperson for our committee to ask what (Hontzas’) violation was, he had no knowledge of what I was talking about: It seems the powers that be do not think the folks who have been asked to carry out the task of voting deserve to know what is happening,” he wrote in his resignation letter, according to the Food Section. (Todd Price, the South’s representative on the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee, has also resigned.)
The James Beard Awards will be announced on June 5 in Chicago, although the proceedings may be missing a few guests.