There’s probably something to be said about the tortoise and the hare here, but when it comes to Michael Cimarusti’s long-deserved James Beard Award win—presented tonight after nine years of nominations—all we can think about is how soon we can visit his seafood-centric restaurants again.
The Providence, Connie and Ted’s, Best Girl and Il Pesce Cucina chef finally took home the lauded Best Chef: West award. Cimarusti was one of many deserving West Coast (and predominantly Los Angeles) chefs nominated in 2019: Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, Travis Lett of Gjelina and Joshua Skenes of San Francisco’s Saison.
In fact, L.A.’s dining scene placed nine stellar restaurants, bar programs and chefs in the running across various categories at the annual ceremony dedicated to the restaurant and beverage industry, but at this year’s prestigious awards show, the big—and only—L.A. win was Cimarusti.
“Wow, it took me almost as long to get up here as it should have, I guess,” he joked at the podium. “Nine years—I really wanted to drag it out, make it last.” The Michelin-starred chef went on to thank the James Beard Foundation; his chef de cuisine at Providence, Tristan Aitchison; his executive chef at Connie and Ted’s, Sam Baxter; and his kitchen teams across his small but growing L.A. restaurant empire. “Without them,” he said, “I wouldn’t be standing there.”
Cimarusti also thanked his business partner of 14 years, restaurateur Donato Poto, saying, “As far as I’m concerned, [he’s] the best in the business… he makes the restaurant what it is.” Closing out his heartfelt speech, he thanked his two children and his wife: “I want to thank my partner in life and my partner in business, who through the past 25 years I never ever would have gotten through these struggles without.”
And while Cimarusti was the only Los Angeles win at the Chicago-held ceremony, our dining scene took home more than a few accolades in the weeks leading up to the main event. Earlier this year, Garden Grove’s Pho 79 received an America’s Classics award, and was featured in a thoughtful video spotlight with other winners during the ceremony. “My mom [Liễu Trần], she came here in 1979 after a long journey, it was very dangerous,” said Mai Trần, who now co-owns and runs the restaurant. “Pho 79 is one of the pioneers that introduced pho to Americans.”
And, perhaps in the award most dear to Angelenos’ hearts, the great Jonathan Gold posthumously received the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award for his Los Angeles Times restaurant critiques of Bavel, Nature Pagoda and the Hearth and the Hound. Additionally, The California Sunday Magazine’s Mark Arax won in the Feature Reporting category for “A Kingdom from Dust,” a deep dive into California’s farmers and how crops and orchards can survive our state’s historic droughts. Both were awarded during the James Beard Media Awards ceremony, held in New York City at the end of April. Likewise, the national Proprietors team of Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, David Kaplan and Devon Tarby—behind local spots like the Normandie Club—took the award for Cookbook of the Year with their gorgeous tome, Cocktail Codex, while Dominique Ansel (with a restaurant and bakery at the Grove) won for Online Video, Fixed Location and/or Instructional with his MasterClass series on pastry technique.
While we’re saddened to see the breadth of our dining scene largely unacknowledged and, once again, many of our nominees return to the West Coast sans those coveted Beard medals, this year’s wins almost feel personal—after all, we’ve been waiting for a Cimarusti win for a long time, and there’s no denying the unparalleled talent of Jonathan Gold here or anywhere else in the country.