The Woman Behind the James Beard Foundation’s Sustainable Future
In January 2018, the James Beard Foundation welcomed Clare Reichenbach as its new chief executive officer. With a background at companies like AMC and the BBC, Reichenbach was no stranger to mission-based organizations, though this was her first foray into the food world.
Among her goals at the helm of the organization is engaging the growing numbers of food-conscious consumers in the U.S. through programming, events, and outreach. At the same time, she’s working to support chefs and chef activists who are striving to make a difference in the food world through harnessing their influence and platform.
Reinchenbach looks back over her first year and ahead to the years to come.
What drew you to the James Beard Foundation and the restaurant industry?
Food plays a vital role in so many of society’s issues—environmental health, human health, economic health—and being in a position to help drive positive change through food was, and continues to be, hugely compelling to me.
My business background is in strategy and transformation, and I’ve helped many organizations build and deliver strategic growth. It’s deeply gratifying to be able to apply the strategy discipline to an industry and organization I’m passionate about.
Sustainability has become a big focus for JBF, as well as the industry at large. How are you bringing this value to action?
Sustainability is a key priority, and our programmatic focus right now is the reduction of food waste, and sustainable seafood. To help combat the startling—and growing—trend in food waste, we’ve introduced programs such as Creating a Full-Use Kitchen, an online course designed to introduce food-waste reduction methods into the culinary school classroom.
Our cookbook, Waste Not, is designed to help the home cook minimize waste, and we have an initiative called Waste Not Wednesdays, designed to raise awareness.
Our Sustainable Seafood Partnership leverages the expertise of local seafood purveyors and chefs across the country to help promote sustainable seafood. We now have more than 600 restaurants within our Smart Catch program.
Similarly, the foundation has double-downed on its programming for women in foodservice. Tell us about those initiatives.
We currently offer a suite of programs designed to help women in the culinary community achieve their goals at every stage of their career, from educational scholarships to a culinary leadership program focused on matching early- and mid-career women to new professional mentors.
Two years ago we launched our Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program, which includes a week-long mini-MBA program at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. This year we’re prioritizing the roll-out of our Owning It initiative, which is a condensed, practical program designed to help women own and grow their businesses.
Our ambition is to enable more women to be in leadership positions within the profession, which we believe will result in a more inclusive culture for all. Over the next year we’ll be working to expand these and other programs, with a distinct focus on women of color. Additionally, we’ll be rolling out a suite of online tools focused on business planning, mentorship, visioning next stage growth, and financing the expansion of women-owned businesses.
What have you already accomplished at the helm of the James Beard Foundation, and what do you hope to achieve going forward?
The Beard Foundation is best known for the annual James Beard Awards and for the wonderful dining experiences we offer. It is less well known for all the critically important, mission-based initiatives and impact programming we deliver. A priority of mine from the outset was to interweave the pleasure-and-purpose elements of our work, everything we do at the intersection of the two—as embodied in Good Food for Good. This new strategic positioning brings our mission, values and impact agenda center stage, without losing our celebration of deliciousness.
Our Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change is an incredible program for supporting chef advocates. This year we will reach a policy and advocacy milestone of training more than 300 chefs.
What has most surprised you about the restaurant industry?
The unique influence that chefs have in society and their potential to be powerful change agents for good. The Foundation has a responsibility to foster and support chef advocates.
What does the future hold for the James Beard Foundation?
Our ambition is to be the beating heart of the industry, where we’re an invaluable resource and source of leadership for the culinary profession. We need to support the community in light of many of the real challenges it’s facing and harness the opportunities for change. And at the same time, we must continue educating the consumer around what these issues are. Only then will we start to see true, systemic change and realize a more sustainable and equitable food world for all.