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OU graduate named semi-finalist nominee in James Beard Foundation award

When Becky Clark made the decision to return to Athens in her late 20s, she became the executive chef at Little Fish Brewing Company, located on 8675 Armitage Road, about three months into the brewery’s operation.

Now, Clark is a semi-finalist nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef award in the Great Lakes category. James Beard was an American chef who “laid the groundwork for the food revolution that has put America at the forefront of global gastronomy,” according to the James Beard Foundation. Beard hosted what is thought to be the first cooking show on TV, which was called “I Love to Eat” and aired on NBC from 1946 to 1947.

In 1923, Beard attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for only a short amount of time before being expelled. The college said Beard’s expulsion was due to poor academic standing, but Beard said it was due to his sexuality, according to the foundation.

The James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef award: Great Lakes category includes four states. Chefs from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio are chosen from the category and there are 20 semi-finalists, including Clark, in the 2023 awards cycle. 

Originally from West Virginia, Clark grew up on her family’s homestead, and then went to Athens High school. Clark had only lived in Athens for four years until it was time to move on from high school. While some of Clark’s friends wanted to leave Athens, she was not ready to do the same, which is partially why she ended up attending Ohio University. 

“I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to study so I liked that OU provided so many options and so many good programs,” Clark said. “To me, I wasn’t ready to leave Athens. I feel like I was just getting rooted here.”

After Clark graduated from OU, she traveled west to the Art Institute of Portland to attend its culinary school. Clark came back to Athens following her time spent out of her hometown, and while remaining updated on the James Beard Foundation and awards, she did not believe she would be nominated for an award. 

“When I made the choice to move back to Athens … the James Beard Foundation is something obviously that would always be a goal, but it definitely has historically paid more attention to cities,” said Clark. “I really thought that moving to Athens sort of took me out of the running for it.” 

The nomination of an award from the James Beard Foundation, known as the “Oscars of the Food World,” was made more important to Clark because of where she gets to perform her talents and passions. 

“It was even more special to me to be getting the recognition but also being able to stay in my small town and my community and not feeling like I had to be doing fine dining in a city,” said Clark. “I got to be immersed in my community, my agricultural community, my social community and being the chef at a brewery and still being recognized was really an honor.” 

On March 29, the Restaurant and Chef Award nominees will be announced and the ceremony will be hosted in Chicago on June 5.

The recognition of the nomination is an honor itself for Clark, but so is the work she does at Little Fish Brewing Company and for the Athens community. 

“The biggest passion points for me are mentoring staff and being able to create a safe, inclusive and educational workspace, which wasn’t necessarily always available to me in my early 20s,” Clark said. “Being able to put out food that makes people happy and brings people around a table … It’s really an honor.”


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