Food Writer's Diary

Who will win the Beard Awards?

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Congratulations to all the nominees of the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards, just over half of who are returning for another try after having been nominated last year.

It’s no surprise that so many nominees return every year, since the same people generally nominate them.

Although the long list of semifinalists is compiled based on nominations from anyone who cares to go online and nominate someone, that list is trimmed down by 600 some-odd judges, comprised of local and national food and restaurant writers and winners from previous years, who vote in whatever categories they consider themselves knowledgeable (so a food writer in Georgia would be disinclined to vote in the category of best chef in the Pacific, for example). Those same judges vote on the nominees to pick the ultimate winner in each category, who will be announced at the annual gala, to be held this year at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on May 6.

And now I’ll endeavor to predict who will win the awards this year.

My predictions aren’t based on whom I’d like to win, because that doesn’t really matter. All of the nominees are wonderful at what they do. More importantly when it comes to these awards, they’re good at marketing that fact, because like many awards, the Beard Awards are largely a popularity contest whose judges, being human beings, are swayed by buzz as much as they are by their own taste.

So that’s how I make my selections, moderated by the assumption that, as a general rule, restaurants in large cities, who are likely to have more judges, have a better chance of winning than those in smaller cities, because judges aren’t supposed to vote for restaurants where they haven’t eaten.

The James Beard Foundation nominates many journalists, writers, broadcasters and designers, too. A full list of nominees can be found here.

One more note on the awards: Although it’s nice to win, every nominee can use the nomination to drum up publicity and encourage guests to visit their restaurants. Once they win, they’re out of the running for several years.

So really, staying nominated without winning can be better for business.

And now, without further ado, my predictions:

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

By definition, this is the only category in which all the nominees are new. Although State Bird Provisions and Empellón Cocina are enjoying considerable buzz, I think the San Francisco vote will be split, and the reputation of Grace’s chef and owner, Curtis Duffy, ultimately will prevail and Grace will win.

Empellón Cocina, NYC


Grace, Chicago


The Ordinary, Charleston, S.C.


Rich Table, San Francisco


State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

OUTSTANDING BAR PROGRAM

The Aviary, The Violet Hour, Bar Agricole and Pegu Club are all back for another try, having been nominated last year. This award is a tricky one to predict, because you have the Grant Achatz team, for whom judges love voting, at The Aviary, pitted against Will Guidara and Daniel Humm at the NoMad, who are also darlings of the judges. It’s possible that the two nominees each in Chicago and New York will split the vote, but that didn’t happen last year, when PDT in New York won.

For Achatz & Co., not to win in a category twice would be extraordinary, so I think The Aviary will win.

The Aviary, Chicago


Bar Agricole, San Francisco


The Bar at the NoMad Hotel, NYC

Holman and Finch Public House, Atlanta


Pegu Club, NYC


The Violet Hour, Chicago

OUTSTANDING CHEF

Chang, Danko, Kahan and Silverton are all back from last year’s list. I guess the question here is: Is Sean Brock’s star waxing faster than David Chang’s is waning.

I think not. My guess is that David Chang will win, and that the afterparty will be fantastic.

Sean Brock, McCrady’s, Charleston, S.C.

David Chang, Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC


Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco


Suzanne Goin, Lucques, West Hollywood, Calif.


Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago


Nancy Silverton, Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles

OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF

Only Melissa Chou and Hedy Goldsmith are back from last year’s list.

It’s always risky to bet against anyone who spent any time in a Daniel Boulud kitchen, and that’s where Dominique Ansel is from. But it’s also dangerous to predict someone from the Mario Batali Empire, which includes Del Posto, will lose.

Nonetheless, I predict this is Melissa Chou’s year.


Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC


Melissa Chou, Aziza, San Francisco


Ken Forkish, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Portland, Ore.


Hedy Goldsmith, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami


Brooks Headley, Del Posto, NYC 

OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT

Blue Hill and Highlands Bar and Grill are back from last year’s list, and either one could win easily. But the judges also just love the hell out of John Besh of August and Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia. I guess I could predict The Slanted Door just to be a maverick, but no, I think Blue Hill will win.


August, New Orleans


Blue Hill, NYC


Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.


The Slanted Door, San Francisco


Spiaggia, Chicago
 


OUTSTANDING RESTAURATEUR

Piero Selvaggio, Caroline Styne and Phil Suarez are all back from last year. Judges love the One Off restaurants, but ABC Kitchen, which won the award for best new restaurant a couple of years ago, still seems to be a must-dine-at restaurant for every industry person who comes to town. I think Phil Suarez will win this year.

Maguy Le Coze, Le Bernardin, NYC


Donnie Madia, One Off Hospitality Group (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, etc.), Chicago


Piero Selvaggio, Valentino Restaurant Group (Valentino, Valentino Vin Bar), Santa Monica, Calif.


Caroline Styne (Lucques, Tavern, A.O.C., etc.), West Hollywood, Calif.


Phil Suarez, Suarez Restaurant Group (ABC Kitchen, Jean Georges, wd~50, etc.), NYC
 


OUTSTANDING SERVICE

Topolobampo is the only returning nominee on this list, which I find interesting, but I think Del Post will win: It’s a Batali restaurant, and being in New York City, it has a natural advantage because so many judges live here.

Del Posto, NYC


Quince, San Francisco


The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.


Topolobampo, Chicago


Vetri, Philadelphia

OUTSTANDING WINE PROGRAM

A16, The Barn at Blackberry Farm and Frasca are all back from last year. CityZen’s chef, Eric Ziebold is an alumnus of the Thomas Keller empire, which gives it an advantage, but I think A16 is in touch with the current American Zeitgeist, so I think it will win.

A16, San Francisco


The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.

CityZen at Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.


Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colo.


Picasso, Las Vegas

OUTSTANDING WINE, SPIRITS, OR BEER PROFESSIONAL

David Wondrich is the only newcomer to this list, which I find extraordinary considering the revolution that’s underway in American adult beverages these days. He’s also the only one representing spirits.

But I think the judges likely will be biased in favor of wine. The three New York nominees will split that city’s votes, and Merry Edwards will win.

Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.


Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery, Sebastopol, Calif.


Garrett Oliver, The Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.


Neal Rosenthal, Rosenthal wine merchant, NYC

David Wondrich, spirits educator, Brooklyn, NY
 


RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR


You have to be 30 or younger to be nominated for this award. Nonetheless, Danny Bowien and Thomas McNaughton are back.

Mission Chinese has the distinct advantage of being in two cities, and I think that will be enough to push Mr. Bowien over the top.

Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig, Chicago


Danny Bowien, Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco and NYC


Thomas McNaughton, Flour + Water, San Francisco


David Posey, Blackbird, Chicago


Blaine Wetzel, The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Lummi Island, Wash.

BEST CHEF: GREAT LAKES

Stephanie Izard and Andrew Zimmerman are back, joined by two other Chicago chefs. Dave Beran also was nominated last year, but in the Rising Star category.

It’s possible that Jonathon Sawyer, who’s on a popularity surge these days, could pull an upset, or that Great Lakes region judges could pick one of their Top Chef alumni, Stephanie Izard, but they really love voting for things having to do with Grant Achatz, so I think Dave Beran will win.

Dave Beran, Next, Chicago


Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat, Chicago


Jonathon Sawyer, Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland


Paul Virant, Vie, Western Springs, Ill.


Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia, Chicago



BEST CHEF: MID-ATLANTIC

Armstrong, Monis and Sunderam are all back from last year, but, the preponderance of D.C. nominees in this region tends to result in chefs from other cities winning.

I think Spike Gjerde’s approach of super greenness and rehabilitation of Maryland’s culinary heritage will move the judges to vote for him.

Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.


Spike Gjerde, Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore


Johnny Monis, Komi, Washington, D.C.


Brad Spence, Amis, Philadelphia


Vikram Sunderam, Rasika, Washington, D.C.

BEST CHEF: MIDWEST

Justin Aprahamian, Gerard Craft and Colby Garrelts are all back on the list from last year. The two newcomers, both from Minneapolis, will likely split that vote. Of the other three, I think Gerard Craft’s getting the most buzz these days, so I think he’ll win.

Justin Aprahamian, Sanford, Milwaukee

Gerard Craft, Niche, Clayton, Mo.


Colby Garrelts, Bluestem, Kansas City, Mo.


Michelle Gayer, Salty Tart, Minneapolis


Jack Riebel, Butcher & the Boar, Minneapolis

BEST CHEF: NORTHEAST 

Jamie Bissonnette and Gerry Hayden are back this year. Melissa Kelly’s a longtime favorite of food writers, but I think Gerry Hayden will pull it out this year, anyway.

Jamie Bissonnette, Coppa, Boston


Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Cafe, Boston


Gerry Hayden, The North Fork Table & Inn, Southold, N.Y.


Melissa Kelly, Primo, Rockland, Maine


Barry Maiden, Hungry Mother, Cambridge, Mass.

BEST CHEF: NORTHWEST 

Jason Franey, Naomi Pomeroy and Cathy Whims are all back from last year, although Gabriel Rucker’s no stranger to Beard Awards, having been named Rising Star of the year in 2011, and Ethan Stowell has been nominated in this category several times in the past.

Portland is the absolute darling of the national dining world these days, but most of the judges voting in this category will likely be from Seattle. Canlis is a dining institution in that city, and Jason Franey has been credited with revitalizing its cuisine. I think he’ll win.

Jason Franey, Canlis, Seattle


Naomi Pomeroy, Beast, Portland, Ore.


Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.


Ethan Stowell, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Seattle


Cathy Whims, Nostrana, Portland, Ore.



BEST CHEF:  NYC

Congratulations to Jonathan Waxman, the only newcomer to this group. I’m usually pretty sure about who’s going to win this one, but this year I think it’s anybody’s award. New York judges love April Bloomfield’s casual style and anything Mario Batali touches, such as Del Posto. But I don’t think they’re done handing out awards to Michael White, who I think will win.


April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig


Wylie Dufresne, wd~50


Mark Ladner, Del Posto


Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto


Michael White, Marea
 


BEST CHEF:  SOUTH

Justin Devillier, Tory McPhail and Alon Shaya are back from last year, although Sue Zemanick spent a number of years on the Rising Star list before graduating to this one.

I think the power of the Brennans, who own Commander’s Palace, will determine the winner of this award this year, and it will go to Tory McPhail


Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans


Jeff McInnis, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Miami Beach, Fla.


Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans


Alon Shaya, Domenica, New Orleans


Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans
 


BEST CHEF: SOUTHEAST

Edward Lee and Joseph Lenn are back from last year. I think the sheer number of judges in this category that are likely to be from Atlanta will push Steven Satterfield over the top this year.

Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Diner, Raleigh, N.C.


Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Ky.


Joseph Lenn, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.


Steven Satterfield, Miller Union, Atlanta


Tandy Wilson, City House, Nashville
 


BEST CHEF: SOUTHWEST

Kevin Binkley, Jennifer Jasinski and Hugo Ortega are back from last year. Although that gives them an advantage, Underbelly’s all the rage these days. I think Chris Shepherd will win.

Kevin Binkley, Binkley’s Restaurant, Cave Creek, Ariz.


Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine, Austin


Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja, Denver
Hugo Ortega,

Hugo’s, Houston

Chris ShepherdUnderbelly, Houston

BEST CHEF: WEST

Chris Cosentino, Christopher Kostow and Daniel Patterson are all back from last year, making this a very Bay-Area-heavy roster. That’s not unusual: Four Bay-Area chefs were on the list last year and Matt Molina of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles pulled out the win.

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo could very well do the same this year, but Corey Lee was chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, and judges love that. I think he’ll win.

Chris Cosentino, Incanto, San Francisco


Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.


Corey Lee, Benu, San Francisco


Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francisco


Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Animal, Los Angeles

And those, my friends, are my 2013 predictions for the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards. Best of luck to everyone.

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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