Each winter, chefs, bakers, somms and restaurateurs click onto a website and cross their fingers as they check if their team—and their friends—have been nominated as James Beard Award semifinalists, engaging in a nationwide game of holding one’s breath. (Unless you’re Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow, who couldn’t bear to click the link herself.) Inarguably one of the country’s top culinary honors, the annual Beard Awards (dubbed “the Oscars of food”) celebrate and recognize some of the country’s best restaurants, beverage programs, rising stars and other service pros, and, as is the case every year, L.A. is one of the best-represented cities on the list.
Despite a few snubs in entire categories—Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, but who’s counting—the L.A. area and Orange Country racked up 24 nods, but there’s no guarantee they’ll move on to the next round or, if they do, whether they’ll win. Last year nearly 20 L.A. chefs and restaurants found their names on the semifinalists list, but not a single one of them took home an award. (Suzanne Goin did, however, get named in the separate peer-voted Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America category).
We’ve got our fingers crossed that our city’s culinary talent can make it to the finalists round, but we’ll all have to wait until March 14 for that announcement. For now, let’s take a look at this year’s local semifinalist nominees, which include some first timers (hello, Liz Johnson of Freedman’s) as well as multiple frequent offenders. (Michael Cimarusti’s now been nominated eight times with no wins, more or less making him the Scorsese of L.A.’s Beard chefs. Will this year be the year?! We’ve got to wait and see.)
Best Chef: West
This category recognizes the regional crème de la crème, and in the case of the West Coast’s nominees, L.A.’s got talent in spades—comprising nearly half this category’s chefs:
Niki Nakayama of n/naka
Jessica Koslow of Sqirl
Travis Lett of Gjelina
Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon
Josef Centeno of Orsa & Winston
Michael Cimarusti of Providence
Tony Xu of Chengdu Taste
Carlos Salgado of Taco María in Costa Mesa
Rising Star Chef of the Year:
Liz Johnson of Freedman’s
Miles Thompson of Michael’s
Jonathan Yao of Kato
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Group (Cassia, Huckleberry Bakery & Café, Rustic Canyon and others)
Best New Restaurant:
Outstanding Pastry Chef:
Margarita Manzke of République
Or Amsalam and Alex Phaneuf of Lodge Bread Co.
Outstanding Bar Program:
Outstanding Wine Program:
Check out the full list of semifinalists here, then stay tuned for a finalists announcement on Wednesday, March 14. The winners will be named during the annual James Beard Awards on Monday, May 7.