Friday, May 06, 2005 | If you read any local publication at all, you can’t miss the ballots which allow readers to make their choices of the best chef, the best restaurant and the best service. And then there are the awards from the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association due to come out at the end of the month. Just exactly how important are these awards and how honest are they?

Often, judges are making selections based on hearsay only. Many have never eaten in the nominated restaurants. Sections of the country are frequently underrepresented on judging panels because they are out of the culinary mainstream. San Diego is an example in California. Nominations for the best chef in California come almost 100 percent from the San Francisco Bay Area, Napa Valley and Los Angeles. And until this year, it has been several years since there has been a Southern California nominee. There has never been a nominee from San Diego or even one who has made the top 20 list. Is this fair? No, I don’t think so. As a result of many complaints about the system, it is being revised to give chefs and restaurants from all over the United States an equal chance at winning.

Locally, we have the California Restaurant Association awards. First, in order to receive an award, you must be a member of the association. Many small restaurants cannot afford to join. If the association were truly interested in being honest, everyone would be eligible regardless of membership. Award winners are selected by members of the association and to make matters worse, members with more than one restaurant get more than one vote. Currently, association members are allowed to select the category in which they wish to compete. Naturally, they will choose the one where they think they have the best chance of winning.

What can the association do to make the awards more credible and honest?

1. Allow every restaurant in San Diego to be considered for the award regardless of membership.

Pamela J. Wischkaemper is a local food consultant and is the founder of San Diego Gastronomically Correct, a group that goes on the road twice a year to promote the San Diego restaurant industry. The only criterion for membership is having cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Nineteen chefs in San Diego are members.

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