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L.A. only won a single James Beard Award—but was nominated 10 times

Stephanie Breijo

You win some, you lose some, but when it comes to L.A.’s track record with the Beard Foundation, it can feel like we’re being gaslighted. Despite a respectable 10 nominations in 2018—including four out of the five Best Chef: West nods—and a massive 24 semifinalists at the start of this year’s James Beard Awards, the L.A. area somehow only managed to win once. Even our JBA media nominees didn’t win. Last year, despite our 20-plus semifinalists and 10 nominations across the board, we came home with nothing. Two years ago, we nabbed a few. So what happened? We’re still good, right?! Were we just imagining it? Were those nods for nothing? Maybe San Francisco really is stronger than L.A.? Stop it. Of course we’re good. We’re still the best food city in America.

Last night, some of the food world’s best and brightest descended on the Lyric Opera House of Chicago for the James Beard Foundation’s annual celebration of chefs, beverage programs, restaurateurs, servers, dining institutions and more. Dubbed “the Oscars of Food,” it’s undeniably the country’s most speculated-upon awards ceremony in the field, and Los Angeles had a number of its own best and brightest in attendance. While L.A. was almost shut out of this year’s wins, the Lucques Group’s own Caroline Styne took home the award for Outstanding Restaurateur. And it couldn’t be more deserved. Helming A.O.C., Lucques, the Larder and Tavern with her culinary partner, the Beard Award-winning Suzanne Goin, Styne has been shaping L.A.’s dining landscape since the late ’90s and running one of the tightest—and most reliable—ships in the business ever since. 

Which brings our attention to the rest of L.A.’s innovators in the running. Last year, L.A. chefs held four of the six spots on the JBA short list for Best Chef: West; this year, they held four out of five. Yet even with the odds in our favor, we’re still not pulling through to a win and it feels, to be frank, like a slap in the face—especially given the sheer armies of international and East Coast chefs flooding the city’s food scene and heaping on the accolades. Does the culinary world and, more directly, the Beard Foundation recognize us only just enough to pat us on the head without bestowing one of those medals because four of our chefs truly can’t stand up to the only San Francisco chef in the bunch?

That’s not to say the Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn doesn’t deserve her due; in fact, she’s been nominated five times, and is easily one of the top chefs leading the culinary charge in the Bay Area. Though if we’re talking backlogs of nods, let’s not forget Providence’s Michael Cimarusti’s now been a semifinalist or nominee every single year since 2008—11 times total—and still hasn’t won once.

And so our chefs will try again next year, but the truth is that our city’s talent continues to run at breakneck innovation speed with or without validation from the Beard Awards—which makes the year-round winners Angelenos.

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