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James Beard Foundation Award

Gearing up for the 2017 James Beard Awards

Most semifinalists were on last year’s list, too

It can be hard to write about the list of semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards.

That’s partly because there are hundreds of them — 434 this year — and partly because there’s either a whole lot to say or very little.

There are national categories covering the whole country, like Rising Star Chef of the Year and Outstanding Service, as well as regional awards for the best chefs in each of 10 different regions.

The semifinalists were selected by a committee that whittled down tens of thousands of nominations submitted online, as well as by a panel of more than 600 judges from around the country. Those judges include members of the food media, as well as past winners. Over the next two weeks, they will vote from the list of semifinalists for finalists, who will be announced on March 15.

The James Beard Foundation likes to call these awards the Oscars of the Restaurant Industry, but really they’re more like the Emmys because the same people and restaurants get nominated over and over again. In fact, more than half of the people and restaurants that made the long list last year are back again this year: 222, or more than 54 percent, if you don’t count the 27 semifinalists for best new restaurant, all of which are, by definition, new.

There would probably be even more returning names, but unlike the Emmys, once you win a Beard Award, you’re ineligible to be nominated in the same category for several years, otherwise we’d see Thomas Keller and Danny Meyer take home awards every May. 

If you’re local media, you can list the semifinalists from your area, and if you have time you can do little profiles of them. (If your name or your restaurant’s name is on the list, you’d better get cracking to make sure you get all the attention you deserve.) 

For those of us in national media, it takes a bit of poking around to find something of interest to report on, which is why I’m just writing this now, even though the semifinalists were announced last week. 

Of some note is a shakeup in the category of Outstanding Service, in which just six of 20 names are repeats from last year — Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.; Brigsten’s in New Orleans; Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier in Washington, D.C.; North Pond in Chicago; Saison in San Francisco; and Zahav in Philadelphia.

Also, Miami didn’t fare very well in the regional category. It had four semifinalists for Best Chef in the South last year, and just one this year — Deme Lomas of Niu Kitchen. Although Miami got three national nods this year: Kyu for best new restaurant, Zak Stern of Zak the Baker for outstanding baker and Bradley Kilgore of Alter for Rising Star Chef of the Year.

New Orleans continued to dominate the region, with six semifinalists, up from five last year. Chicago dominates the Great Lakes region, with 13 semifinalists (although Detroit has a respectable three restaurants). Philadelphia and DC are duking it out in the Mid-Atlantic, as Portland, Ore., and Seattle are in the Northwest. Minneapolis dominates the Midwest, with seven semifinalists, followed by St. Louis with four and Milwaukee with three, just like last year. And in the West, San Francisco and Los Angeles each have nine semifinalist chefs. The remaining two are Carlos Selgado of Taco María in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Karen Taylor of El Molino Central in Sonoma. 

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

TAGS: Chefs
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