01 Sep 2018
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What I Do: Clare Reichenbach (AMP 185, 2013)

CEO, James Beard Foundation
by Julia Hanna; illustrations by Peter and Maria Hoey

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Described by Julia Child as “the quintessential American cook,” James Beard died in 1985, leaving a long legacy of cookbooks written, chefs mentored, and many, many meals enjoyed. He also left a townhouse in New York City’s West Village, which a year later became the site of the James Beard Foundation. Operating “at the intersection of pleasure and purpose,” in the words of CEO Clare Reichenbach (AMP 185, 2013), the nonprofit oversees annual industry awards (considered by many to be the Oscars of the food world), an ongoing series of in-house and off-site events with established and emerging chefs, and a full agenda of scholarship and mentoring programs, chef’s advocacy work, and sustainability initiatives. “The foundation is very multi-faceted and multi-disciplined, so my role is to ensure that all of those components are laddering up to a clear, strategic direction,” says Reichenbach, a media executive with 20 years of experience in strategy and business transformation who joined the foundation in February. “In AMP we talked about finding our North Star,” she says. “I’m fortunate because food is an authentic passion of mine; I’m deeply motivated by a mission-based operation; and finally, food is on the agenda like never before.”


“The awards are really a dual opportunity. Yes, they help guide people’s choice of restaurants, and it’s a form of peer recognition that is really valued by the community. But in the current environment of the #MeToo movement we saw an opportunity to highlight the fact that culture and conduct are as important as cooking and craft. As a validator and industry accreditor, we have an increased responsibility to ensure that we are highlighting those players who are excellent across the piece, not just in one dimension of their operations.”

 

“I oversee a team of about 35 people; we also engage with a number of external agencies for support, depending on our needs. The foundation hosts roughly 250 chefs annually, so we essentially have a restaurant operation in the house. At the moment we primarily offer a five-course tasting menu, but we’re looking at other approaches that could make it more accessible to a broader range of the public. We also aim to get the balance right in terms of diversity by including some of the known luminaries of the food world as well as its rising stars.”

 

“My first strategic thrust is to ensure that the pleasure and purpose aspects of the organization are reconciled in a thoughtful way. If we’re having amazing events to showcase the best of American food, in the same breath we should be talking about what we mean by an equitable food system. The penny has really dropped in terms of the power of the culinary community to be an effective change agent in the world.”

 
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