The James Beard Awards recognize the best in everything restaurant and food-related across the country. In a nutshell, they are the Oscars of the culinary world.
James Beard was a famous U.S. chef, cookbook author, founder of a cooking school, host of the first cooking program on TV, and food expert. The New York Times christened him the “Dean of American cookery.” He was one of the first to single out American cuisine as being worthwhile, inventive and of top quality. Basically, he boldly deemed it worthy of recognition and high praise. Up to that time, European traditions and techniques like those found in French cuisine were seen as the ones to follow if you wanted to have a first class restaurant. James Beard changed all that.
What are the James Beard Awards?
Part of his legacy is the establishment of the James Beard Foundation which oversees the James Beard Awards. It’s a nonprofit with a cool mission – “to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.”
As part of that mission, they dole out accolades in many different categories. These include Outstanding Chef (both national, and by each region of the country), Restaurant, New Restaurant, Rising Star Chef, Restauranteur, Pastry Chef, Bar Program, Wine Program, Cookbook, TV Program, News Reporting, Restaurant Reviews, Reference, History & Scholarship, and more.
Another part of his legacy is the James Beard House. It was his home in Greenwich Village, Manhattan for many years. Since his death, it’s become a culinary hot spot of its own. Rising chefs from across the country are invited in to cook dinners for lucky diners who secure tickets. It’s a great way to both honor and encourage aspiring chef talent.
They announce James Beard Awards semifinalists first, at this time of the year. Next, they’ll whittle it down to finalists, which they’ll announce March 25th. Then, on May 4th, they announce the winners, at a big wingding at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.
Charlestonians on the Semifinalist List
Charleston is no stranger to the James Beard Awards. A couple years ago, barbecue pitmaster extraordinaire Rodney Scott took home the Best Chef: Southeast award, and Mike Lata’s FIG won Outstanding Wine Program. Mike Lata won Best Chef Southeast in 2009, and his successor Jason Stanhope won it in 2015.
Best Chef Southeast: Kevin Johnson, The Grocery (5th year in a row)
Best Chef Southeast: Shamil Velazquez, Delaney Oyster House
Outstanding Restauranteur: Steve Palmer of The Macintosh, Indaco, O-Ku, The Indigo Road (3rd year in a row)
Best Restaurant: FIG
Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer: High Wire Distilling Company – Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall
Outstanding Hospitality: Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop
Of course, Charleston’s culinary scene is on fire. Next week is the wildly popular Charleston Wine + Food Festival, going on March 4 – 8th. Tickets for most events sold out within hours or days, although apparently some Night Bazaar and workshops still have space available.
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