Charleen Badman of FnB just scored a 2019 James Beard Award in the category of Best Chef: Southwest. The James Beard Foundation’s chef awards, given out once per year, are considered the most important and prestigious awards in the American culinary world. It is the first time a metro Phoenix chef has won the award in more than a decade.
You may respond to this news with a question: Who cares?
Yes, we already know that Badman is a brilliant chef. We already know that she has incubated some of the best culinary talents in towns. We already know that she gets behind the stoves with her team on a nightly basis, that she exalts the central Arizonan micro-seasons on a level that surpasses what anybody else is doing in the upper Sonoran. We already know what she can do with Romanesco and labneh and Sphinx dates and chiltepin peppers, with glacier lettuce and obscure spice blends.
And you may already know, too, that she’s a vegetarian who tastes her meat dishes to ensure that they’re up to her standards, though she no longer consumes animals.
Even so, the award is a big deal. Sure, it doesn’t tell us anything new. But it tells people outside of Arizona something new: that a chef in Scottsdale is working nightly gastronomic sorcery worth experiencing when visiting metro Phoenix from another part of the world.
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The award will bring Badman more attention, more exposure, more resources. It will allow her to keep doing her thing but more so, to more luminously blaze her vegetable-paved trail.
It will likely energize her staff and farmers, her customers, her fellow chefs.
An enduring consequence of her win will be that, with it, the James Beard Foundation is putting the continued force of its name and mission behind all that Badman does. This may seem abstract, but it might be the most important element of all. The foundation does a lot of good in areas that go far beyond taste, areas like sustainable seafood and education, the big-picture aspects of food culture that we too often overlook. These areas ripple out far beyond one person. They are important to Badman, and inform the great work that she does.
She deserves this award. Huge congrats to her and the FnB team.