Today the James Beard Foundation announced its awards finalists (basically considered the Oscars of the restaurant industry), and New Orleans is well-represented again this year. The awards will be announced and presented on May 7 in Chicago.
Here’s the short list:
Outstanding Bar Program
A restaurant or bar that demonstrates excellence in cocktail, spirits, and/or beer service.
Cure, a finalist for Outstanding Bar Program, was also a finalist in 2017 and 2016. The French 75 bar, with Chris Hannah at the helm, won the award in this category last year. Interesting, worlds-colliding note: Chris Hannah, still behind the wheel at the French 75, is racing toward opening a Cuban bar with Nick Detrich, who got his start bartending with the folks at Cure.
A working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Must have been working as a chef for the past five years.
Donald Link of Herbsaint, Cochon, Cochon Butcher, Pêche, and La Boulangerie was nominated for Outstanding Chef. In 2010, Link’s cookbook, Real Cajun, won a James Beard Award and in 2007 he was named Best Chef: South.
Outstanding Pastry Chef
A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries, or breads in a restaurant and serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence. Must have been working as a pastry chef or baker for the last five years.
Kelly Fields of Willa Jean is a finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. She was also a nominee in 2017.
A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years. Candidates must not have been nominated for a James Beard Foundation chef award in the past five years.
JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline is nominated this year. Clevenger was also nominated for this honor in 2017 and 2015.
Outstanding Wine Program
A restaurant in operation five or more years that serves as a standard bearer for excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine.
Bacchanal gets the nod in this category in 2018.
Best Chefs: South
Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Eligible candidates may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been working as a chef for at least five years with the three most recent years spent in the region.
Nina Compton of Compère Lapin, Slade Rushing of Brennan’s, and Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette were nominated for Best Chef: South, which recognizes chefs in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
Both Compton and Essig and Stoltzfus are working toward opening second restaurants right now. Compton, who was nominated in this category last year, is opening her Bywater American Bistro this week. Essig and Stoltzfus, who are first-time nominees, are opening Thalia this year. Rushing has been nominated the past three years in this category.
Brett Anderson’s watershed report on the culture of sexual harassment in John Besh’s restaurant group is a finalist for the Investigative Journalism award. Interesting note: The James Beard Foundation announced in December that it would “evaluate” its policies in light of the restaurant industry’s sexual harassment reckoning. Anderson’s story had a lot to do with this. John Besh (and his restaurants), at the root of several of these complaints, has has racked up numerous JBAs over the years, including that for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006.
2018 James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductees
Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin, co-proprietors of Commander’s Palace, will be inducted this year.
American Classics Award
In May, the James Beard Foundation announced that Dong Phuong, the Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans East, would received an America’s Classics Award.
This is not a New Orleans award, but it’s worth noting that restaurant critic, Bill Addison, of Eater has been nominated in the category based on three reviews he wrote this year, one of which is “The Radical Sandwich Kings of New Orleans,” which was about Turkey & the Wolf here in the Crescent City.