Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen is one of five finalists for a James Beard award the culinary worlds highest honor.
Christensen, who owns Pooles Diner and two other restaurants in downtown Raleigh, will learn if she has been named the best chef in the Southeast at an awards ceremony in New York City on May 6.
The other finalists include Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky; Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.; Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville; and Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta.
Christensen is friends with each of those chefs. When she heard the news about being a finalist, she was boarding a plane in Nashville to return home after attending Wilsons wedding. All but Satterfield have traveled to Raleigh to cook at her restaurant to raise money for the nonprofit Southern Foodways Alliance, and Satterfield is coming to Raleigh to do such an event the week after the James Beard awards ceremony.
It was really touching to see all our names together, Christensen said Monday.
Christensen is the only North Carolina chef to be a finalist. More than a dozen chefs, restaurants and beverage professionals with North Carolina ties were among the semifinalists released last month. North Carolina has only three previous James Beard-award winning chefs: Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, and Ben and Karen Barker of the now-closed Magnolia Grill in Durham.
Christensen owns Pooles Diner, Beasleys Chicken + Honey, Chucks and Fox Liquor Bar. She also recently took over the closed Wilmoore Cafe a few doors down from Chucks and has another restaurant project in downtown Raleigh in the works.
The James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit that recognizes excellence among chefs, restaurants, food journalism and cookbook authors.
James Beard was a cookbook author and champion of regional American food. The foundation was created after his death and now hands out what are considered the Oscars of the food world.