La Boca

James Beard semi-finalists

New Orleans chefs and restaurants among James Beard semi-finalists

credit: Times-Picayune
By Brett Anderson, The Times-Picayune
February 18, 2010, 10:15AM

Semi-finalists for this year’s James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards were released this morning. At least 20 semi-finalists are named in 19 categories, and as usual, there are plenty of New Orleans names among them.

The strongest representation is in the category Best Chef: South, where six local chefs from five restaurants are semi-finalists. They are Scott Boswell of Stella! and Stanley; Aaron Burgau of Patois; Adolfo Garcia of RioMar, La Boca and A Mano, a new Italian restaurant that made the list in two national categories as well; David and Torre Solazzo of Ristorante Del Porto in Covington; and Lilette’s John Harris, who was one of the final five nominees in the category last year.

Beth Biundo of Lilette is among the 20 semi-finalist for Oustanding Pastry Chef. Joshua Smith, chef de cuisine of A Mano, joins Gautreau’s Sue Zemanick as a potential Rising Star Chef of the Year, which honors chefs under 30. Zemanick was a Rising Star nominee last year. A Mano was also among the Best New Restaurant semi-finalists.

Two New Orleans restaurants got the nod in Outstanding Service: Upperline and Emeril’s, which was also a nominee last year. Emeril’s is a semi-finalist in Outstanding Wine Service as well.

Chefs with local connections now working in other markets are also recognized. David Kinch, chef-owner of the visionary restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, California, cut his teeth as a teenager working under Paul Prudhomme at Commander’s Palace. Kevin Davis of the Steelhead Diner in Seattle (on the menu: chicken-andouille gumbo and fried oysters po-boys) worked at Arnaud’s and the Sazerac Restaurant in the 1990s.

Two chefs who used to work under John Besh, Lee Richardson of Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock and Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis, are semi-finalists in Best Chef: South and Best Chef: Southeast, respectively. Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston, a semi-finalist in Best Chef: Southwest, was born in Lafayette.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other semi-finalists with local connections. Please point out any I may have missed.

The James Beard Foundation Awards are generally considered the highest honor available to culinary professionals in the United States. (Full disclosure: I chair the committee that oversees the Restaurant and Chef Awards.) A pool of over 400 judges, which includes past award winners, vote on the semi-finalists. The final nominees will be announced on March 22 at the Palace Café here in New Orleans. Winners are announced May 3 at the James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception in New York City, which is often referred to as the food world’s answer to the Oscars.

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