James Beard Foundation Announces 2019 Chef and Restaurant Semifinalists

Heavy-hitters like Saison, Benu, and Angler receive nominations, while there are more than a few plucky sleeper entries from the Bay Area.

Spotted prawns at Angler. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

On Wednesday, the James Beard Foundation released its list of semifinalists for its 2019 awards — widely considered the most prestigious culinary accolades in America — culled from thousands of entries. As in the past, there are 12 categories for the 29th annual awards, although Best Chef is broken down further into eight regions.

Surprising no one, Northern California is well-represented, particularly in Best Chef: West.

For Best New Restaurant, Joshua Skenes’ Embarcadero hunting-and-fishing lodge Angler won a nod, as did Nite Yun’s somewhat more modest Fruitvale Cambodian restaurant, Nyum BaiGreg Mindel of Neighbor Bakehouse in Dogpatch and Avery Ruzicka of Los Gatos’ Manresa Bread each received a nomination for Outstanding Baker

Once again, Bar Agricole was included in Outstanding Bar Program, while fellow perennial semifinalists David Kinch and Christopher Kostow (of Manresa and The Restaurant at Meadowood, respectively) were nominated in the Outstanding Chef category.

2018 Outstanding Pastry Chef nominee Michelle Polzine of Hayes Valley’s 20th Century Cafe repeated the feat, and joining her this year is Juan Contreras of Atelier Crenn. Among the 20 national contenders for Outstanding Restaurant are Quince and Nopa.

Citing Mission Chinese Food, its neighbor Commonwealth, and the now-shuttered The Perennial, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz are in the running for Outstanding Restaurateur. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Saison picked up a nomination for Outstanding Service — but delightfully, so did Swan Oyster Depot.

The wine categories are often were the Greater Bay Area and Wine Country outperform, but in Outstanding Wine Program, only the three-Michelin-starred Benu and Berkeley’s Great China appear on the list. (There’s a bit of a theme of a regional heavy-hitter paired with something of a sleeper, is there not?) In Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer, four NorCal figures show up: Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (St. Helena), Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines (Napa), Yoshihiro Sako of Den Sake Brewery (Oakland), and Lance Winters of St. George Spirits (Alameda).

For Rising Star Chef of the Year, the sole regional semifinalist is Sorrel’s Alexander Hong. Finally, in Best Chef: West — which covers California, Hawaii, and Nevada — there are no fewer than nine entries from Northern California. Three are in Oakland: Reem Assil of Reem’s, James Syhabout of Commis, and Dominica Rice-Cisneros of Cosecha Cafe. Four are in San Francisco: Gabriela Cámara of Cala, Joshua Skenes of Saison, Pim Techamuanvivit of Kin Khao, and Brandon Rodgers and Ian Scaramuzza of In Situ. In Sonoma, Karen Taylor of beloved El Molino Central got listed, as did Matthew Kammerer at Harbor House Inn in the unincorporated coastal Mendocino town of Elk.

See the full list of winners here.

On March, 27, the Beard Foundation will announce the finalists at a press conference in Houston, hosted by James Beard Award–winning chef Hugo Ortega. A month later, on April 26, James Beard Media Awards are handed out at a ceremony in New York, while the remainder of the awards are bestowed at a dinner at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 6.

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