The James Beard Foundation has announced the semi-finalists for its 2020 restaurant and chef awards, and the list includes nine chefs and restaurateurs and two restaurants from Georgia. Here are the people and restaurants in contention for these esteemed culinary awards.
Among national awards, Lazy Betty is in contention for Best New Restaurant. The tasting-menu only restaurant in Candler Park is from chef Ron Hsu and his siblings, Anita and Howard Hsu, the faces behind Sweet Auburn BBQ. AJC dining critic Ligaya Figueras awarded it three stars last year, writing that “Hsu and his team are giving Atlanta some of the most dynamic food this city has seen since Staplehouse debuted in 2015.”
Chris Wilkins of Root Baking Co. in Ponce City Market was named a semi-finalist in the Best Baker category. Wilkins and his wife, Nicole Lewis, relocated the bakery from Charleston, South Carolina, to Atlanta in 2018. Known for sourcing heirloom grains and milling in house, Root Baking Co. will be turning its weekly Pizza Jeans pop-up into a permanent restaurant and bar in the Root Baking space this spring.
In addition, Tiny Lou’s pastry Claudia Martinez is among the 20 semifinalists vying for Best Pastry Chef.
Atlanta native Steve Palmer is among nominees in the Best Restaurateur category. Palmer is one of the founders and a partner with Indigo Road hospitality group. Based in Charleston, the group operates restaurants in metro Atlanta, including Tiny Lou’s, O-Ku Sushi, Oak Steakhouse, Coletta and Sukoshi in Colony Square. Last fall, Palmer released a memoir, “Say Grace,” in which he addresses issues of sobriety and addiction in the hospitality industry.
Once again both Miller Union and Kimball House have earned nods for their beverages. Miller Union is among Outstanding Wine Program semi-finalists while Kimball House has been nominated in the Outstanding Bar Program category.
In the running as a Rising Star Chef of the Year is Maricela Vega. Vega ran the popular Mexican food pop-up Chicomecóatl until being named executive chef at Ponce de Leon Avenue restaurant 8Arm last March. “I’m wildly impressed and ravenous for more of her food, which feels born out of creative spontaneity and an abiding respect for local ingredients,” wrote AJC dining critic Wendell Brock in a three-star review of the restaurant last June.
In regional chef awards, multiple Atlanta culinarians are in the running. Semi-finalists in the Best Chef Southeast category include Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue; Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani and Botiwalla; Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ and Leonard Lewis of Bones. The Southeast region is comprised of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Now in its 30th year, the James Beard Foundation Awards are among the highest honors available to restaurants, chefs and members of the food media in the U.S. Each February, the foundation releases lists of semi-finalists for chefs and restaurants in a variety of categories such as Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Service, Best Bar Program and a regionally-divided list of Best Chefs in America. A month later, the field is narrowed down to finalists in the chef and restaurant categories. Winners are announced in May.
Last year included a couple of major wins for the Georgia restaurant industry: Mashama Bailey of the Grey in Savannah won Best Chef Southeast, while the Atlanta-based non-profit the Giving Kitchen was honored as Humanitarian of the Year.
Now that semi-finalists have been announced, the Atlanta- and Georgia-based restaurants and chefs must wait until March 25 to find out if they will be named finalists. Should they advance, they will be invited to an awards gala in Chicago on May 4 where the winners will be announced.
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