Classic New Orleans restaurants, rising stars, seasoned veterans of the dining scene, a pastry chef and two bars are among the New Orleans contenders for this year's James Beard Awards, the culinary organization announced. Winners of these coveted honors in dining and hospitality will be revealed May 1 at a gala in Chicago.

Donald Link is a finalist for the group’s Outstanding Chef award, while JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline Restaurant is up for the Restaurateur of the Year award. 

Galatoire's Restaurant is a finalist for the Outstanding Service award. Cure and Arnaud’s French 75 are both up for Outstanding Bar Program. Emeril’s Restaurant joins the lineup this year for Outstanding Wine Program.

Kelly Fields, pastry chef for the Besh Restaurant Group, is a finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and another chef from the Besh group, Zachary Engel of Shaya, is up for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant, won Best New Restaurant in 2016.

New Orleans has three of the five contenders for this regional Best Chef: South award. They are Nina Compton of Compère Lapin, Slade Rushing of Brennan’s Restaurant, and Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint, one of Donald Link's restaurants.

In addition, Emeril Lagasse was nominated for "Outstanding Host/Personality" in the foundation's media awards for his 2016 Amazon web series "Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse."

In releasing its list, the James Beard Foundation said its roster of nominees were picked from some 24,000 chefs, restaurants and bars submitted by the public during an open call last fall.

Fêtes Fest returns

As John Besh’s restaurant group has grown, so has the organization’s charitable arm. The John Besh Foundation funds scholarships for minorities in New Orleans to attend culinary school, and it also funds micro loans for local food producers. 

This weekend, the John Besh Foundation hosts Fêtes Fest, a fundraiser at Generations Hall on Friday, March 24, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

This year’s Fêtes Fest includes a concert by the Brass-a-Holics, open bar and food from a collection of local and visiting chefs, like Kyle Knall of Kenton's, Isaac Toups of Toups’ Meatery and Toups South, Ryan Prewitt of Pêche Seafood Grill, Edgar Chase IV of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Alex Harrell of Angeline, Ashley Roussel of Simone's Market, Diana Chauvin Gallé of La Thai and Todd Pulsinelli of Restaurant August. All inclusive tickets start at $99 and are available at

The John Besh Foundation’s fundraising weekend also includes a series of eight dinners on Saturday held in local homes and led by star chefs from around the country, including Marcus Samuelsson, Emeril Lagasse and Aarón Sánchez. Tickets for these dinners start at $1,000. 

Last call at Phil's Grill 

The first Phil’s Grill opened in Metairie 10 years ago. The last one closed last week in Harahan, marking the end of a long run for a homegrown burger brand that had become a ritual for its regulars and once had ambitious expansion plans.

Phil de Gruy spent the restaurant’s last evening visiting with customers and former staff who had dropped by the restaurant at 1640 Hickory Ave. to get their final Phil’s Grill burger.

“I’ve had to focus on the setbacks, and there were certainly many, but I still look back at it as a success,” de Gruy said, noting the bonds he forged through the business with people across the New Orleans area.

De Gruy explained his decision to close as a combination of the fallout from an unsuccessful downtown expansion, rising costs and competition and his own health issues. 

The first Phil’s Grill opened in Metairie, on Severn Avenue, on March 19, 2007. The original inspiration for Phil’s Grill was to transfer the city's tradition of these great bar burgers to a more family-oriented setting. De Gruy had expansion in mind from the start, with restaurants in Mandeville and Hammond joining the original within a few years, though these closed. In 2013, a new Phil’s Grill emerged on Camp Street in downtown New Orleans, though this lasted little more than a year.

The brand’s Harahan location proved the most resilient, and as it prepared to close last week markers of the past adorned the dining room. By the end, the chalkboard normally used to post specials instead displayed the names of Phil’s Grill employees and their start dates with the restaurant.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.