Mouthful

Triangle chefs among James Beard semifinalists

Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge in Durham.
Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge in Durham. jleonard@newsobserver.com

The James Beard Foundation has released the list of semifinalists for the annual James Beard Awards, and North Carolina is heavily represented.

The state has eight chefs in the Best Chef Southeast category, more than any other state. The semifinalists are:

▪ Scott Crawford of Standard Foods Restaurant + Grocery in Raleigh.

▪ Steven Deveraux Greene of Herons at the Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary.

▪ Matthew Kelly of Mateo and Vin Rouge, both in Durham.

▪ Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in Hillsborough.

▪ Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston.

▪ Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine.

▪ Brian Canipelli of Cucina24 in Asheville.

▪ Joe Kindred of Kindred in Davidson.

This is the first time Greene has made the semifinalist list. “It was exciting to know we’re still looked at as one of the best restaurants in the Southeast,” said Greene, who has worked at either Herons, the Umstead Hotel or its sister restaurant, An Cuisines, across the street. since 2009.

In the Outstanding Baker category, North Carolina has two semifinalists in Phoebe Lawless of Scratch in Durham and Lionel Vatinet of La Farm in Cary. Cynthia Wong, of Rhubarb in Asheville, is the sole North Carolina semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Previous James Beard award winner Ashley Christensen is again a semifinalist this year, with her new Raleigh restaurant Death & Taxes in the running for Best New Restaurant. She’s also a semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category for her Raleigh restaurant Poole’s Downtown Diner.

Christensen, who won best chef in the Southeast two years ago, said she was shocked to see her name on the semifinalist this year, especially for outstanding chef. “Ten years from now, I thought it would be cool to read this name on this list,” Christensen said. Although only her flagship restaurant is mentioned, Christensen said, it really represents all 280 employees at all six establishments and her commissary kitchen. She said, “It says Poole’s but it’s the whole team.”

The James Beard awards are considered the Oscars of the food world, honoring restaurants, chefs, restaurant designers, writers, journalists and cookbook authors. The foundation is named after James Beard, a television food personality and cookbook author who was an early champion of regional American cuisine.

Only four North Carolina chefs have won James Beard awards while working in the state. Ben Barker of the former Magnolia Grill in Durham, and Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill and The Durham Hotel in Durham, along with Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, won Best Chef Southeast in 2000, 2011 and 2014 respectively. Barker’s wife, Karen, won a national award, Outstanding Pastry Chef, in 2003. (The Barkers closed Magnolia Grill in 2012 but recently opened Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro a few weeks ago with their son, Gabriel.)

There are typically 20 to 25 semifinalists, depending upon the category. Those numbers are culled to five finalists or nominees in each category. Finalists in the chef and restaurant awards, as well as broadcast, book and journalism awards, will be announced March 15.

The 2016 James Beard chef and restaurant awards will be announced at a gala at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on May 2.

Andrea Weigl contributed to this report. Note: she serves on the James Beard book awards subcommittee.

Matt Lardie is a Durham-based food and travel writer. He writes the Eat Write Go blog: eatwritego.com. Reach him at matt@eatwritego.com.

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