The entire restaurant world may be at a near standstill — takeout orders excepted — but the James Beard Awards will live on in September, and the finalists were just announced this week. As usual, the Bay Area is well represented, and we even have a contender for Best New Restaurant this time around.
The finalist list — the actual nominations — usually comes out a month or so after the long list, or semi-finalist roster, comes out. But this time the coronavirus got in the way, and after deciding to reschedule the awards ceremony from May 4 to September 25, the nominations were just released this week. Perhaps it was an effort to allow some of the shock and devastation of the pandemic to sink in/wear off. But it still seems bizarre to be thinking about an "Oscars of the food world," as the ceremony is called, at a time when cities could very easily see a third or half of their restaurants never reopen.
As New York chef and James Beard Award winner Gabrielle Hamilton put it beautifully in a piece for the New York Times Magazine last week, "It would be nigh impossible for me, in the context of a pandemic, to argue for the necessity of my existence. Do my sweetbreads and my Parmesan omelet count as essential at this time?"
But restaurants will live on, and perhaps with the buzz of a James Beard nod, the places on this long list will have a leg up when state governments decide they can open their doors again. And yes, we will always need the pleasure and comfort of good food, and for many of us, nothing will feel "back to normal" until we have mask-less servers and crowded-in tables once more.
Cheers to the Quince team for landing both in the Outstanding Restaurant and the Best New Restaurant categories with wine-bar offshoot Verjus. And to Swan Oyster Depot which received a surprise honor — in the company of Saison — in the Outstanding Hospitality category.
Also, Chronicle critic Soleil Ho, who had barely been on the job a year when the long-list of semifinalists came out, was nominated in the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award category in the media awards alongside NYT critic Pete Wells. That honor named a trio of her reviews, including her rookie-week pan of Chez Panisse, and her takedown of Le Colonial.
Anyway, the full list is here, and here in the Bay Area, these are this year's nominees in the chef and restaurant categories:
Best New Restaurant
David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos
Corey Lee, Benu, San Francisco
Rising Star Chef of the Year
Gaby Maeda, State Bird Provisions
Best Chef: California
- Brandon Jew, Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco
- Mourad Lahlou, Mourad, San Francisco
- Joshua Skenes, Angler, San Francisco
- Pim Techamuanvivit, Kin Khao, San Francisco
Outstanding Bar Program
Outstanding Pastry Chef
Juan Contreras, Atelier Crenn
Avery Ruzicka, Manresa Bread, Los Gatos
Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer
Cathy Corison, Corison Winery, St. Helena
Lance Winters, St. George Spirits, Alameda
Swan Oyster Depot