Chef Christopher Gross on the Benefits of Winning a James Beard Award

Winning a James Beard Award is the holy grail of culinary achievement. (Yes, despite what you might think, having your own Food Network show is not quite as important as the Beard Awards.) Last week, when the nominees for this year's awards were announced, it got me thinking about how life might change for any of the Arizona candidates -- Beau MacMillan, Kevin Binkley, Silvana Salcido Esparza -- if they were to win.

Courtesy of Chef Christopher Gross

"It's not about ego," says Chef Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Crush Lounge, who was named the Best Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. "It's about business. If you win, your business might go up by 5%."

Chef Christopher admits he finds it funny that fifteen years later everyone still introduces him as a James Beard Award-winner. There are a few other perks that make winning worthwhile, he says, though they're not what you'd expect.

"Back in the day, when you would go to New York and setup everything for the dinner, there would be a lot of press and you'd get in national magazines," explains Christopher. That's the most immediate response: the press attention, the congratulations calls. All of that can improve business, but it isn't necessarily satisfying. 

​Chef Christopher cites being invited to a scholarship benefit dinner alongside Emeril and Todd English, and cooking for the Salt Lake City Olympics, as the real perks of being a Beard Award-winner.

Maybe he's an altruist at heart. Or perhaps when you get to a certain level of culinary fame there's no need to focus on yourself anymore, so you focus on helping others.

Chef Christopher can't exactly offer his public opinion of the nominees or give them any specific advice, since he participates in the voting process. However, he did say that the first time he was nominated for a James Beard Award he was hoping he wouldn't win. He had done an out-of-house dinner for James Beard that year and "wouldn't have felt right winning." 

Candidates can take away two things from that story: Sometimes it's better not to win, and just because you don't win this year doesn't mean you never will!

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