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james-beard-foundation-logo.jpg Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation
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James Beard Awards go to longstanding restaurant operators

Most of the national winners this year have been running restaurants for years, if not decades

Masako Morishita, the chef of Perry’s, a 41-year-old modern Japanese restaurant in Washington, D.C., won the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chefs Award for emerging chef, and Dakar NOLA, a Senegalese restaurant in New Orleans, was named Best New Restaurant in a gala ceremony at Lyric Opera in Chicago on June 10.

Ten years ago, those were the most noteworthy awards of the annual celebration, which at the time were widely regarded as the most prestigious awards in the restaurant industry.

Best New Restaurant had to go to a new restaurant, and Emerging Chef, then called Rising Star Chef and only available to people aged 30 and younger, was always someone to keep an eye on.

The other 20 or so awards went to longstanding chefs who had probably been nominated for several years before actually winning.

That has changed as the James Beard Foundation has reworked the awards to be more inclusive and to recognize restaurants that act as good citizens as well as purveyors of excellent food.

In addition, the Emerging Chef has to be someone who displays exceptional talent, character, and leadership ability and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come. Unlike its predecessor, the Rising Star award, there is no longer an age limit.

The award with top billing, Outstanding Chef, went to Michael Rafidi of Albi, also in D.C., a Palestinian-American chef who dedicated the award to Palestinians the world over.

Albi opened in 2020, but many of the awardees had paid their dues for much longer than that.

The awards in their new format have been criticized for seeming to pick winners at random based on their political or ethnic bona fides, but many of this year’s awardees have been around for a long time.

Outstanding Restaurateur went to Boulder, Colo.-based Erika and Kelly Whitaker with restaurants including Basta in Boulder and The Wolf’s Tailor in Denver. They are particularly well known for their sustainability ethic and have been leaders in that realm for more than 10 years (Basta opened in 2010)

Langbaan, a longstanding upscale Thai venue in Portland, Ore., headed up by chef, Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, was named Outstanding Restaurant last night, but it was Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year in 2014.

Zu Bakery in Portland, Maine, named Outstanding Bakery, opened in 2000, and Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery, also in Portland, Maine, who was named Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, has been baking in that city since 2002.

Lula Cafe, the Chicago restaurant awarded for Outstanding Hospitality, opened in 1999. Lulu Drake in Columbia, S.C., which won for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program, is comparatively new, but it has still been around since 2016.

Jewel of the South in New Orleans, which was named Outstanding Bar, is a relative newcomer, having opened in 2019 and relocated the following year.

The Best Chef awards in the dozen regions in which the Beard Foundation divides the country, are as follow:

  • California: Lord Maynard Llera of Kuya Lord in Los Angeles
  • Great Lakes (Ill. Ind., Mich., and Ohio: Hajime Sato of Sozai in Clawson, Mich.
  • Mid-Atlantic: (D.C., Del., Md., N.J., Penn., and Va.): Harley Peet of Bas Rouge in Easton, Md.
  • Midwest (Iowa, Kan., Minn., Mo., Neb., N.E., N.D., S.D., and Wis.): Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai in Minneapolis
  • Mountain (Colo., Idaho., Mont., Utah, and Wyo.): Matt Vawter of Rootstalk in Breckenridge, Colo.
  • New York State: Charlie Mitchell of Clover Hill in Brooklyn
  • Northeast (Conn., Mass., Maine, N.H., R.I., and Vt.): David Standridge of The Shipwright's Daughter in Mystic, Conn.
  • Northwest and Pacific (Alaska, Hawaii, Ore., and Wash: Gregory Gourdet of Kann in Portland, Ore.
  • South (Ala., Ark., Fla., La., Miss., and Puerto Rico), Valerie Chang of Maty's in Miami
  • Southeast (Ga., Key., N.C., S.C., Tenn., and W.Va.: Paul Smith of 1010 Bridge in Charleston, W. Va.
  • Southwest (Ariz. N.M., Nev., and Okla.): Rene Andrade of Bacanora in Phoenix
  • Texas: Ana Liz Pulido of Ana Liz Taqueria in Mission.
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