For moviegoers, this is the thick of Oscar season, since all of the films likely to be honored with nominations have now reached local screens. After the spate of Christmas releases, film buffs can legitimately gripe about unwarranted inclusions and inexplicable oversights (Academy, I'm warning you now: I fully expect a Best Supporting Jack Russell category for the pooches in Beginners and The Artist.)
But it's harder to summon such outrage about the James Beard awards, sometimes described as the food world's Oscars, because eaters get a say. Not the final say, to be fair, but they at least get to make suggestions - so long as they file them by Saturday night.
Anyone willing to provide the sponsoring foundation with a name and an e-mail address can suggest nominees in up to 19 categories (since many of the categories are geographically-specific, a ballot isn't spoiled if categories are skipped.) A panel of judges will review all of the suggestions, so this is your chance to speak up for a pastry chef, spirits professional or young chef you think the New York-based committee might otherwise overlook. Although a few of the categories are restricted according to age, location and previous wins, thousands of restaurants are eligible in nearly every category: A restaurant doesn't have to be fancy or widely-hyped to score a nomination. Excellence is what counts.
It's too late to vote early, and Beard rules stipulate you can't vote often, but you can vote once, right now. And if you decide not to participate, it's probably best to also abstain from pitching a "where do they get these chefs?" fit once the nominations are released: The chefs' names should come from you. You'll find the ballot here.