Giorgios Bakatsias was caught off-guard when a longtime employee called to congratulate him for being a James Beard award nominee.

“It’s a great honor and I didn’t expect it at all,” says Bakatsias, who learned from Vin Rouge General Manager Michael Maller that the James Beard Foundation had nominated him in a national category as Outstanding Restaurateur. “I take the moment to be truly overjoyed and grateful,” Bakatsias adds. “At the same time, the credit goes to the people around me. We have a great team.”

Giorgios Hospitality Group owns several popular and critically lauded restaurants in the Triangle. The group includes Bin 54, City Kitchen, Kipos and Village Burgers in Chapel Hill; Café at the Nasher Museum of Art, Local 22, Parizäde and Vin Rouge in Durham; Georges Brasserie in Charlotte; and Gatehouse Tavern and Girasole Trattoria in Wake Forest.

Bakatsias hints that more may be in the works. “I don’t sleep early so I’m always working on something,” he says with a laugh. “Maybe in a couple of weeks there might be something to talk about.”

Like Bakatsias, Phoebe Lawless was nominated in a national category, Best Pastry Chef, for Scratch Baking in Durham. It is her second consecutive nomination.

In an omission that recalls past Academy Award conundrums, The Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro was nominated in the national category of Outstanding Restaurant, but Chef Colin Bedford is not listed among the nation’s Outstanding Chefs. He is, however, among the semi-finalists named to the Best Chef Southeast category.

Last year’s Best Chef Southeast finalist list included just one name from North Carolina, Ashley Christensen of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner. She is a semi-finalist again this year, along with Bedford and six colleagues:

• Scott Crawford, Herons at the Umstead Hotel, Cary

• Vivian Howard, Chef & the Farmer, Kinston

• Scott Howell, Nana’s, Durham

• Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani, Asheville

• Matt Kelly, Mateo, Durham

• Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto, Hillsborough

While North Carolina was shut out of several major categories, including Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional, Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville is one of 25 people nominated as Rising Star Chef of the Year.

Finalists in the restaurant and chef categoriesas well as nominations for book, journalism, broadcast and restaurant design awardswill be announced March 19. The 2014 James Beard Awards will be presented in New York City on May 2 and 5. Jill Warren Lucas

Two days remain in the Bull City Vegan Challenge, and I’m slowly gnawing my way through the menu items of eight local restaurants. On a warm afternoon, I grabbed an outside table at Hummingbird Bakery and dug into two corn tacos stuffed with baked housemade tofu and spicy Asian slaw. Creamier than its store-bought counterpart, the tofu contained a kick, thanks to the peppers and ginger in the slaw.

The fried stuffed chile with vegan cream sauce and pomegranate is a dairy-free spin on one of my favorite dishes at Dos Perros.

The Refectory, already famous for its vegan dal, and apple pecan vegan muffins, hit another home run with polenta lasagna, basil pesto and grilled vegetable entrée. Don’t forget dessert: dark chocolate macadamia torte.

Over the next three days, I’m eating at Taberna Tapas, beyu caffe and Parts & Labor. Check out the INDY‘s food blog for a report on those dishes. And vote for your favorite vegan dish at

We’re psyched about heading over to Fortnight Brewery and Pub (1006 S.W. Maynard Rd., Cary,, which opened earlier this month. Native Englishmen, Stuart Arnold and David Wilkinson (brewery president and vice president, respectively) are focusing on U.K.-style beers: English ale, English strong ale, Porter and Blonde. Growlers and kegs are also available.

Co-founders include former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Bob Greczyn, his son, Will Greczyn, who opened the Mellow Mushroom pizza in Cary, and David Gardner, an IT entrepreneur.

Fortnight has already become a hangout for soccer fans and techies, as well as fans of good beer. Look for a review in the INDY next month.

How many Scoville Units can you take? Find out at The Triangle Hot Pepper Eating Contest hosted by Ninth Street Bakery (136 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-286-0303,

Round 1 starts easy, with wimpy cayenne peppers (500–2,500 Scoville Units) then the competition ramps up. By Round 6, you’ll try to choke down hellfire: a ghost pepper (855,000–1,463,700 Scoville Units).

Registration is free, but you must sign up in advance at

INDY music editor and hot pepper aficionado Grayson Haver Currin will compete.

Audience admission is $8 and includes two super-spicy tacos or one hot tamale. Dinner, beer and wine will also be available for purchase. Lisa Sorg