James Beard Award winners announced

Headliners include Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster in Washington DC, Damarr Brown’s Virtue in Chicago, Portland-based Kann by Gregory Gourdet, and Friday Saturday Sunday in Philadelphia.

The US’ annual James Beard Awards were announced on 5 June at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, with 23 categories that include outstanding chef, restaurant, bakery and bar; best new restaurant and emerging chef; best regional chefs; and several other leadership and achievement awards in the culinary industry. The event is heralded as “the Oscars of the food industry”.

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The James Beard Awards are a set of annual ceremonies within the US that recognise those in the food, beverage and hospitality industry that exemplify the James Beard Foundation’s core value of “champion[ing] a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability”. An award from any of the 23 categories has been held as one of the highest honours in American gastronomy and culinary arts since the first award was presented in 1991.

James Beard is considered to have pioneered the appreciation of American cuisine, and, in 1947, was the first person to have a standalone cooking show aired in the United States. He is recognised for the emphasis that he placed on appreciating each dish for its process, ingredients and the story behind it. During his life, Beard often used his own kitchen to foster a culinary environment where intimacy could exist without exclusivity. He would host any culinary enthusiast – from students to seasoned professionals – in his New York City townhouse.

The year after his death in 1985, Beard’s Greenwich Village home was reopened as the James Beard House, the homebase for the newly formed James Beard Foundation. This initiative, prompted by Beard’s long-time friends and fellow culinary figures Julia Child and Peter Kump, aimed “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment”, according to the James Beard Foundation. To this day, the foundation strives to mirror and honour Beard’s contributions to American food culture through scholarship and conversation, holding events all over the country.

In recent years, the foundation has declared a more concentrated focus and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion to combat inequality and discrimination within the restaurant industry. Strides towards this goal include overhauling recruitment and hiring practices in favour of a more diverse slate of staff and trustees and publishing internal demographic data annually. This commitment is part of an initiative to broaden the scope of award’s nominees and award a more diverse and inclusive roster of talent across the country.

However, the awards haven’t come without controversy due to the foundation’s new process of investigating nominees accused of “bad behaviour” by its ethics committee, resulting in several candidates’ disqualification and some judges resigning ahead of the awards ceremony.

Friday Saturday Sunday restaurant in Philadelphia is known for its “eclectic American” cuisine (Credit: Robert K. Chin – Storefronts/Alamy)

More importantly, though, the spotlight has shone brightest on this year’s finalists and winners who have been creating a lot of buzz around their food, restaurants and superlative culinary talent.

In the Outstanding Chef Category, Peruvian American chef Erik Ramirez of Brooklyn’s Llama Inn and Japanese American chef Niki Nakayama of two Michelin-starred n/naka in Los Angeles may have been getting a lot of press; however, it was Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster in Washington DC, who took home the top prize.

Outstanding Restuarant went to Friday Saturday Sunday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Known for its “eclectic American” cuisine, the restaurant stood on Rittenhouse Street for more than 40 years before it was purchased and renovated by current owners, Chad and Hanna Williams. The couple, who were married in the restaurant’s kitchen, rebuilt the space but maintained the name as an ode to the building’s history. Inside, each guest is served an eight-course tasting menu that constantly rotates, creating a new experience with every visit.

Several Black chefs have been making waves in the lead up to the awards with their African-, Caribbean- and Southern US-inspired menus. For Best New Restaurant, finalist Dept of Culture, located in Brooklyn, New York, and owned by Ayo Balogun, has received much praise for taking diners through an intimate tasting menu of North-Central Nigerian fare. Nevertheless, it was Kann that won the category. Owned by previous James Beard awardee and cookbook author Gregory Gourdet, the Portland, Oregon, restaurant serves Haitian cuisine and is named for the Haitian Creole word for “cane”, an ode to Gourdet’s heritage.

Additionally, Emerging Chef winner Damarr Brown, Chef de Cuisine at the Black-owned Virtue in his hometown of Chicago, trained at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute in Chicago and Le Cordon Bleu and made the final four on Top Chef Houston. When his former mentor Erik Williams opened Virtue in 2018, the two reunited to develop what is now a Bib Gourmand restaurant. Using traditional techniques gleaned from his formal education and support from his mother, aunt and grandmother, Brown brings a celebration of his culture, family and community to the Southern American-themed restaurant.

Best Chef: South winner, Natalia Vallejo of Cocina al Fondo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the first Puerto Rican person to ever win a James Beard Award. And Yoli Tortilleria in Kansas City, Missouri, known for its stone ground tortillas, reigned supreme in the award’s first-ever Outstanding Bakery category.

VIDEO: Ayo Balogun Dept of Culture in Brooklyn takes diners through an intimate tasting menu of North-Central Nigerian fare

2023’s James Beard Award finalists and winners:

Outstanding Chef 

  • Rachel Miller, Nightshade Noodle Bar, Lynn, MA 
  • Niki Nakayama, n/naka, Los Angeles, CA 
  • Erik Ramirez, Llama Inn, Brooklyn, NY 
  • Rob Rubba, Oyster Oyster, Washington, DC – WINNER
  • Hajime Sato, Sozai, Clawson, MI 

Outstanding Restaurant

Best New Restaurant

  • Causa, Washington, DC 
  • Dept of Culture, New York, NY 
  • Don Artemio Mexican Heritage, Fort Worth, TX 
  • Kann, Portland, OR – WINNER
  • Lupi & Iris, Milwaukee, WI 
  • Neng Jr.’s, Asheville, NC 
  • Nolia, Cincinnati, OH 
  • Obélix, Chicago, IL 
  • Restaurant Beatrice, Dallas, TX 
  • Tatemó, Houston, TX 

Outstanding Restaurateur  

  • Brandon Chrostowski, EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute (EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, edwins too, EDWINS Bakery, and others), Cleveland, OH 
  • Greg Dulan, Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, Dulan’s on Crenshaw, and Dulanville, Los Angeles, CA   
  • Aaron Hoskins, Sarah Simmons, and Elie Yigo, CITY GRIT Hospitality Group (smallSUGAR, CITY GRIT, Il Focolare Pizzeria), Columbia, SC 
  • Yenvy and Quynh Pham, Phở Bắc Sup Shop, Phởcific Standard Time, The Boat, Seattle, WA 
  • Ellen Yin, High Street Hospitality Group (Fork, a.kitchen + bar, High Street, and others), Philadelphia, PA – WINNER

 Emerging Chef

  • Damarr Brown, Virtue, Chicago, IL – WINNER
  • Rashida Holmes, Bridgetown Roti, Los Angeles, CA
  • Serigne Mbaye, Dakar NOLA, New Orleans, LA 
  • Charlie Mitchell, Clover Hill, Brooklyn, NY 
  • Amanda Shulman, Her Place Supper Club, Philadelphia, PA 

Outstanding Bakery

  • Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionery, New Orleans, LA 
  • La Casita Bakeshop, Richardson, TX 
  • Kuluntu Bakery, Dallas, TX 
  • Yoli Tortilleria, Kansas City, MO – WINNER
  • Zak the Baker, Miami, FL 

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker  

  • Veronika Gerasimova, Veronika’s Pastry Shop, Billings, MT 
  • Elaine Uykimpang Bentz, Café Mochiko, Cincinnati, OH 
  • Vince Bugtong, ABACÁ, San Francisco, CA
  • Margarita Manzke, République, Los Angeles, CA – WINNER
  • Shawn McKenzie, Café Cerés, Minneapolis, MN 

Outstanding Hospitality

  • The Black Cypress, Pullman, WA 
  • Bottega, Birmingham, AL 
  • Lula Drake, Columbia, SC 
  • The Quarry, Monson, ME – WINNER
  • Sepia, Chicago, IL 

Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program  

  • COTE, New York, NY 
  • Lazy Bear, San Francisco, CA 
  • Nancy’s Hustle, Houston, TX 
  • OTOTO, Los Angeles, CA – WINNER
  • Spencer, Ann Arbor, MI 

Outstanding Bar

  • Bar Leather Apron, Honolulu, HI – WINNER
  • Drastic Measures, Shawnee, KS 
  • Garagiste Wine Room | Merchant, Las Vegas, NV 
  • Las Ramblas, Brownsville, TX 
  • Rob Roy, Seattle, WA 

Best Chefs Presented (by region)  

Best Chef: California 

  • Gilberto Cetina Jr., Holbox, Los Angeles, CA 
  • Kyle and Katina Connaughton, SingleThread, Healdsburg, CA 
  • Brandon Hayato Go, Hayato, Los Angeles, CA 
  • Justin Pichetrungsi, Anajak Thai, Sherman Oaks, CA – WINNER 
  • Carlos Salgado, Taco María, Costa Mesa, CA 

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)  

  • Omar Anani, Saffron De Twah, Detroit, MI 
  • Diana Dávila, Mi Tocaya Antojería, Chicago, IL 
  • Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama, Chicago, IL – WINNER 
  • Andy Hollyday, Selden Standard, Detroit, MI 
  • Sarah Welch, Marrow, Detroit, MI 

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)  

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)  

  • Sanaa Abourezk, Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean, Sioux Falls, SD 
  • Gregory León, Amilinda, Milwaukee, WI 
  • Francesco Mangano, Osteria Papavero, Madison, WI – WINNER
  • Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger, Fairchild, Madison, WI 
  • David Utterback, Yoshitomo, Omaha, NE 

Best Chef: Mountain (CO, ID, MT, UT, WY)  

  • Salvador Alamilla, Amano, Caldwell, ID 
  • Michael Diaz de Leon, BRUTØ, Denver, CO 
  • Suchada Johnson, Teton Thai, Teton Village, WY 
  • Kris Komori, KIN, Boise, ID – WINNER
  • Ali Sabbah, Mazza, Salt Lake City, UT 

Best Chef: New York State  

  • Nasim Alikhani, Sofreh, Brooklyn, NY 
  • Mary Attea, The Musket Room, New York, NY 
  • Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy, New York, NY 
  • Shaina Loew-Banayan, Cafe Mutton, Hudson, NY   
  • Junghyun Park, Atomix, New York, NY – WINNER

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)  

  • Valentine Howell, Krasi, Boston, MA   
  • Christian Hunter, Community Table, New Preston, CT 
  • Sherry Pocknett, Sly Fox Den Too, Charlestown, RI – WINNER
  • Yisha Siu, Yunnan Kitchen, Boston, MA   
  • Renee Touponce, The Port of Call, Mystic, CT 

Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific (AK, HI, OR, WA)  

  • Joshua Dorcak, MÄS, Ashland, OR 
  • Vince Nguyen, Berlu, Portland, OR – WINNER
  • Thomas Pisha-Duffly, Gado Gado, Portland, OR 
  • Beau Schooler, In Bocca Al Lupo, Juneau, AK 
  • Aaron Verzosa, Archipelago, Seattle, WA 

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)  

Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, PR)  

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, NM, NV, OK)  

  • Oscar Amador, Anima by EDO, Las Vegas, NV 
  • Kaoru Azeuchi, KAISEKI YUZU, Las Vegas, NV 
  • Andrew Black, Grey Sweater, Oklahoma City, OK – WINNER
  • Justin Pioche, Pioche Food Group, Upper Fruitland (Doolkai), Navajo Nation, NM 

Best Chef: Texas  

Leadership Awards 

  • Jim Embry, Sustainable Communities Network, Slow Food USA, and Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance 
  • Valerie Horn, CANE Kitchen, Cowan Community Center, and City of Whitesburg Farmers Market 
  • Savonala “Savi” Horne, Land Loss Prevention Project 
  • Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 
  • Rowen White, Sierra Seeds 
  • Emerging Leadership: The Burgerville Workers Union 

Humanitarian of the Year Award 

The 2023 Humanitarian of the Year Award honourees are the co-founders of the Black Farmer Fund: social entrepreneur and impact investor Olivia Watkins, and farmer and activist Karen Washington.

Lifetime Achievement Award 

The 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award honouree is legendary cookbook author, writer, teacher and actress Madhur Jaffrey CBE.

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