Today, the James Beard Foundation released its list of semifinalists for its prestigious Best Chef and Restaurant categories. Several Tar Heels, including notable chefs Ashley Christensen (Poole’s), Vivian Howard (Chef & the Farmer), Cheetie Kumar (Garland), Gabe Barker (Pizzeria Mercato), and Fullsteam brewer Sean Lilly Wilson, made the cut, as did Brewery Bhavana in the Best New Restaurant category.
Christensen is a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef, Howard and Kumar are both included in the Best Chef: Southeast category, Barker is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, and Wilson is nominated for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional.
These six comprise half of North Carolina’s semifinalists. The others are: David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow in Asheville, for Outstanding Baker; Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville, for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional; Katie Button of Nightbell and Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani, both in Asheville, for Best Chef: Southeast; and Sam Jones of Sam Jones BBQ in the tiny town of Winterville and Joe Kindred of Kindred in Davidson are also semifinalists for Best Chef: Southeast.
The James Beard winners will be announced March 14.
Here is how the Foundation makes its selections:
The James Beard Foundation holds an online open call for entries beginning in mid-October of each year. This year, more than 20,000 entries were received, a list which the Restaurant and Chef Committee reviews to determine eligibility and regional representation. Based on the results and eligibility requirements for each award, the committee then produces a nominating ballot that lists the semifinalists in each of the 21 Restaurant and Chef Award categories. The list of semifinalists is then sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from across the country. This panel, which comprises leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award winners, votes on specific award categories to determine the final five nominees in each category. The same judges then vote on these five nominees to select the winners.