2014 JBFA Seattle Finalists Announced: Why It's a Big Deal

By: 
Julien Perry

Finalists for the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards have been announced, and it’s a pretty good show for Seattle.

But before I present the short-list, let’s talk about why this award is such a big deal. While it may not mean much to the average consumer, this accolade is a huge honor for folks in the industry. Here’s why.

Josh Henderson, creator of the Huxley Wallace Collective, who’s up for a JBFA for the design of his restaurant Westward, says it’s a sense of accomplishment, “like, ‘We did it!’ It’s a big deal for the restaurant, for the cooks and everyone involved. It’s like a celebration — all your hard work has paid off. You work so hard, you need an excuse to celebrate every once in a while. It’s important.”

Important also, says Henderson, because the award is voted on by your peers (former JBA winners get to vote). Roux’s Matthew Lewis agrees, saying there’s something special about getting a nod of approval from the extra critical eyes of people in the industry.

Same with RN74's David Varley. “It matters because it’s a recognition of something from your peers and it puts you on the map nationally. Not that it should matter, but it does.”

“The guests don’t know, it’s all about the industry. The only thing a chef cares about are what his friends think. We’re the most insecure…peer recognition is a big deal. It’s the most important thing for us, especially when you’re just starting out.”

Starting out, like first-time restaurateur Eric Donnelly, who is still reeling (no pun intended) after getting onto the semi-finalists list with his restaurant RockCreek.

“When you're young and very ambitous, which I still am, it was always a goal of mine, ‘Some day, I'm gonna bust my ass and get nominated for a JBA!’ and then I get this phone call and I'm like, ‘What? You have the wrong guy,’ because all of the sudden my new restaurant — it almost isn’t real to me.”

And now, presented without interruption, the Seattle finalists for the 2014 James Beard Awards.

Best Chef Northwest
Renee Erickson, The Whale Wins
Jason Franey, Canlis
Ethan Stowell, Staple & Fancy

Rising Star Chef of the Year
Blaine Wetzel, The Willows in on Lummi Island

Outstanding Restaurant Design
Huxley Wallace Collective, Josh Henderson and Matthew Parker, Westward

Book Awards
(Focus on Health)
Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, Shauna James and Dan Ahern

Journalism Awards
(Food Politics, Policy and the Environment)
Craig Welch, The Seattle Times, “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn”

Video Webscast
Cook Smarter, Host Grant Crilly, Chefsteps.com

For a complete list of nominees, head over to the official site. Winners will be announced May 5.