James Beard FoundationSustainably sourced: how the James Beard Foundation supports chef education

  • 1986

    Founded

  • New York City

    Headquarters

  • 51-200

    Company size

The James Beard Foundation seeks to continue James Beard’s legacy by celebrating American chefs and educating the food community on sustainable practices.

Celebrating and preserving food culture

In the culinary world, the name James Beard evokes images of the famed American chef teaching classes out of his townhouse in the West Village of New York, or writing cookbooks that brought American cuisine to the forefront of the gastronomy scene. When he passed away 30 years ago, his townhouse was turned into “The James Beard House” by friends, and later, the James Beard Foundation. The organization’s core mission remains intact: to celebrate, nurture, and honor culinary leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.

Sarah Drew works as an Impact Programs Manager at the James Beard Foundation, focusing on sustainability and eco-friendly supply chains. One program, Smart Catch, focuses on sustainably harvesting seafood–the team gathers data from their community of chefs, assessing and educating them on whether the items in their kitchen are being fairly sourced.

The Smart Catch program helps determine whether food items are green (best choice in terms of sustainability), yellow (a good alternative but with some concerns) or red. A red item is one that’s been overfished or caught in ways that are harmful to the environment.

If many chefs are using a product that is being harmfully sourced, the foundation can host a webinar about why the product may not be sustainable to purchase at the moment, as well as offer alternative recommendations in order to foster more diversity in menus. Drew credits Airtable for helping them develop the more streamlined processes the team needed for impact. When she first joined the project earlier this year, she inherited a spreadsheet with upwards of 15 different tabs, each with different names, color codes, and highlights. To an outsider, the system didn’t make sense.

The information we collect from the chefs has to be easily accessible and customized for the many different stakeholders involved. Airtable’s views, fields, blocks, and functions are built in and make it possible to work across a distributed team.

Sarah Drew

Impact Programs Manager

Workflow highlights

  • Views: Using customizable, personal views, different stakeholders can each focus on just the information that matters most to them. For example, the science team looks at the data while Drew looks restaurant information to see if there’s a new chef or restaurant opening.
  • Forms: Chefs can plug into the system by sending their information directly through forms. “The first thing I did when we set up Airtable was create surveys, using forms, to send out to our chefs,” Drew explained. “We also have a link on our website with an interest survey, so if you want to sign up for Smart Catch, that’s where you can and that information feeds directly to the columns in our table.”
  • Csv & Rollups: With the system they’ve built, they can quickly generate an assessment or highlight approved and unapproved items. When you open their Airtable base, you’ll see all of the basic contact information, the number of assessments, the most recent assessment, and the next assessment. “Using rollups and formulas—that’s what’s so helpful for us,” Drew explains.

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