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Awards from the James Beard Foundation are widely considered a top honor in the American restaurant and food realm.

The James Beard Foundation today announced the semifinalists for this year’s culinary awards, and New Orleans has a mix of familiar local names and newer additions in the running.

The awards are widely considered the country’s top honor in dining and hospitality, and the semifinalists named today made one step toward them. The list will be narrowed to finalists next month, on March 13, and winners will be named on May 7 at a gala in Chicago. See the complete national list of nominees here.

The James Beard Foundation said its roster of nominees was selected from some 20,000 chefs, restaurants and bars submitted by the public during an open call last fall.

This year’s roundup of local nominees is similar to last year’s early contenders, joined by a number of newcomers in different categories.

New Orleans contenders by category are:

Best New Restaurant

Saffron NOLA, the pioneering modern Indian restaurant developed by the Vilkhu family. 

Outstanding Bar Program

The Freret Street lounge Cure gets its third consecutive nomination for this national award.  

Outstanding Chef

For the fifth year, Donald Link is in the running for the group’s Outstanding Chef award. The Louisiana native and his restaurant group have won numerous James Beard Awards in the past, and in 2014 his Pêche Seafood Grill won the national award for Best New Restaurant.

Outstanding Pastry Chef

Kelly Fields, pastry chef and partner in Willa Jean café and bakery, is back for the fourth year as a nominee for this national award. 

Outstanding Restaurateur

For the fifth year, JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline Restaurant is up for Outstanding Restaurateur, an award the James Beard Foundations gives to “a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship.”

Outstanding Service

Brigtsen’s Restaurant was again nominated this year for the Outstanding Service award. Chef Frank Brigtsen won the group's regional best chef award in 1998. 

Outstanding Wine Service

Bacchanal, the wine shop that morphed into a wine bar, wine garden and unique oenophile oasis in the Bywater, is nominated alongside more traditional restaurants around the country. 

Another Louisiana nominee in this category is Lucky Palace, a Chinese restaurant in Bossier City.

Best Chef: South

New Orleans has seven early contenders for this regional award:

Another Louisiana nominees for this award is Manny Augello of Bread & Circus Provisions in Lafayette.

Last year, the Best Chef: South award went to Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint.

Two other awards came home to New Orleans in 2017. Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, at the landmark French Creole restaurant, won for Outstanding Bar Program. The group’s Rising Star Chef of the Year award went to Zach Engel, who at the time was chef de cuisine at Shaya, a restaurant that had also won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant just a year earlier.

Engel left Shaya Restaurant a few months later as part of a shakeup at the Uptown restaurant, which is part of BRG Hospitality, formerly the Besh Restaurant Group. He is now culinary director at Pomegranate Hospitality, the culinary company Alon Shaya started last fall after being fired from the Besh group.

The James Beard Foundation has already announced the 2018 recipients of its America’s Classics awards, and a New Orleans name made the list again this year.

Dong Phuong, the Vietnamese restaurant and bakery in New Orleans East, will be honored at the May 7 gala along with four other restaurants around the country.

Separate from its chef and restaurant awards, and announced well in advance, the America’s Classic Award is intended to recognize establishments of “timeless appeal” that serve food “that reflects the character of their communities,” according to the foundation. Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, Mosca’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House are other New Orleans businesses to win the America’s Classics award in past years.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.