It's not just awards season in Hollywood; in the food world, nominees for two presigious food awards were announced this week.
Every year I anticipate seeing who'll be called out among Food & Wine's Top 10 Best New Chefs on the cover of the July issue. The editors almost always nail the list.
This year they've come up with a more brilliant plan: Instead of picking the winners themselves, F&W's editors have selected a list of worthy nominees in 10 regions, and we, the people, get to vote for the nominated chefs.
What I like about this is that it keeps things geographically interesting (as opposed to the James Beard awards, which always skew NY-centric). There are brilliant chefs working in every pocket, every town, every city of this country and it's nice to see a more even spread. What I like even more than that, though, is that this is a really exciting list of chefs who are on the cusp of making it big right now, another huge difference from the Beard awards. And of course, it's fun to get to participate in the process.
What I don't like as much about this is that, when a city is particularly "hot" food-wise, by design, the list won't be able to reflect that. But, well, I think the pros out-weigh the cons.
Here are the nominees from the Northwest category (Oregon and Washington):
Ben Bettinger (Beaker & Flask, Portland)
Chris Diminno (Clyde Common, Portland)
Jason Franey (Canlis, Seattle)
Gregory Gourdet (Departure, Portland)
Jenn Louis ( Lincoln, Portland)
Jake Martin (Fenouil, Portland)
McCracken & Tough (Spur and Tavern Law, Seattle)
Shaun McCrain (Book Bindery, Seattle)
Blaine Wetzel (Willow's Inn, San Juan Islands)
Justin Wills (Restaurant Beck, Depoe Bay, OR)
The other big announcement this week was the semifinalists for the James Beard Awards. It's certainly a wonderfully prestigious award for the chefs and restaurants that win, but because nominees so often ride the nominations list until they win (many are on the list for years, finally winning three to six years into it) I tend to think of the awards as more of a Lifetime Achievement Award than a current reflection on what our city's dining scene is about right now.
The semifinalists are:
Outstanding Chef: Jerry Traunfled (Poppy), Holly Smith (Cafe Juanita)
Oustanding Restaurant: Cafe Juanita
Outstanding Restaurateur: Tom Douglas
Oustanding Service: Canlis
Outstanding Wine Service: Canlis
Rising Star Chef: Blaine Wetzel (Willow's Inn)
Best New Restaurant: Staple & Fancy
BEST CHEF NORTHWEST:
Chris Ainsworth (Saffron, Walla Walla)
Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang (Joule)
Matt Dillon (Sitka & Spruce)
Mark Fuller (Spring Hill)
Ethan Stowell (Staple & Fancy)
Jason Stratton (Spinasse)