A North Carolina chef, a Raleigh restaurant and a Chapel Hill food writer are among this year’s James Beard Foundation awards finalists, which were announced Tuesday in San Francisco.
Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen’s Death and Taxes is a finalist for Best New Restaurant. (Christensen won Best Chef Southeast in 2014.) Kinston chef Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s “A Chef’s Life,” is again a finalist for Outstanding Television Personality and Television Show Shot On Location. Chapel Hill writer and artist Emily Wallace is up for best humor piece in the journalism awards for a story she wrote for Gravy: “Ham to Ham Combat: The Tale of Two Smithfields.”
Christensen is competing against Launderette in Austin; Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco; Shaya in New Orleans; Staplehouse in Atlanta; and Wildair in New York City.
This is the second time Howard has been a finalist for the television personality award. She is competing against Pati Jinich of “Pati’s Mexican Table” and Andrew Zimmern of “Bizare Foods.” This is the third time the show has been nominated for the Television Show Shot on Location. “A Chef’s Life” has previously won a Peabody award and a Daytime Emmy.
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Howard’s show celebrates Eastern North Carolina food traditions. The show also shares the struggles of Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, running a fine dining restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, and a casual eatery, Boiler Room Oyster Bar, in a rural town, as well as raising a family.
Wallace, who works for the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, is competing against Maryse Chevriere of @Freshcutgardenhose on Instagram and Julia Reed who wrote “Stone-Ground Killer” for Garden & Gun.
Despite a strong showing on the semifinalist list released earlier this year, no North Carolina chefs were among the five finalists for Best Chef Southeast. The finalists include Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky.; Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta; Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis; Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville; and Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow in Atlanta.
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 and several other restaurants 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 with their son, Gabriel.)
Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith and restaurant owner Gene Hamer were honored in 2011 with an America’s Classic Award, which are given to iconic regional restaurants with timeless appeal.
The 2016 James Beard chef and restaurant awards will be announced in Chicago on May 2. The books, broadcast and journalism awards will be announced in New York on April 26.
Full disclosure: I serve on the James Beard book awards subcommittee.