Food & Drink

Southern Chefs in the Spotlight

Catch up on the South’s James Beard Award nominees here

Clockwise from top left: Nina Compton; Frank Stitt; Ashley Christensen; Mashama Bailey; Michael Fojtasek; and Rodney Scott.

In Philadelphia this morning, the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for its ­annual food and beverage awards—often called the Oscars of the food world. Among the nominees are dozens of Southerners, many of whom you may recognize from the pages of G&G.

Book your reservations for these outstanding eating and drinking spots while you can, starting with Best New Restaurant nominee JuneBaby in Seattle, where chef Edouardo Jordan channels his St. Petersburg, Florida, roots. If you can’t get to Washington, you only have to wait until sweet corn season to try Jordan’s recipe for “corn bomb” pots de crème. Luckily, plenty more Southern nominees are much closer to home.

JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline in New Orleans—which Rick Bragg called “one of the great restaurants of this world”—is up for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Frank Stitt’s classic Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham is, as usual, a contender for Outstanding Restaurant. This is Highlands’s tenth nomination—in a row. (Writer Charles Gaines spent a day in the kitchen with Stitt in 2013.) Stitt’s longtime pastry chef, Dolester Miles, is up for Outstanding Pastry Chef, too, along with Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans. Last year, we ran Fields’s recipe for early-season strawberries and dumplings. “You can’t be intimidated,” she advised nervous would-be bakers. “If you mess something up, it’s still most likely going to be delicious.”

Two of the five heavy hitters in the running for Outstanding Chef hail from the South: Donald Link, the pride of New Orleans, and Ashley Christensen, who has done as much as anyone to revitalize Raleigh, North Carolina, starting with her Poole’s Diner. “The mac and cheese at Poole’s alone,” Allison Glock wrote, “caused an avalanche of desire and longing not seen since Raquel Welch wore that cave girl bikini,” and you can find the recipe here. Link’s buttery barbecue shrimp is a jaw-dropper, too.

D.C. is having an especially good year. Kevin Tien of Himitsu is a nominee for Rising Star Chef of the Year. And the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category—which covers D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—is heavy with contenders from our nation’s capital, including Amy Brandwein from Centrolina, Tom Cunanan from Bad Saint, and Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney. (See Langhorne’s recipe for black walnut bay sauce, a long-fermented nineteenth-century condiment that shows his dedication to regional ingredients and history.) Cindy Wolf of Charleston is representing Baltimore, a city for which she recently gave us a dining guide.

Meanwhile, further below the Mason-Dixon line, the lineup for Best Chef: South is a toast to New Orleans—home to three nominees: Slade Rushing of Brennan’s, Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette, and Nina Compton of Compère Lapin. (“We don’t make gumbo,” Compton told us in a profile last year, explaining how, as a St. Lucia native, she’s found her footing in the Crescent City. “No way.”) Perennial nominees Vishwesh Bhatt, of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, and Jose Enrique of Jose Enrique in San Juan, Puerto Rico, are also in the mix, alongside Brad Kilgore of Alter in Miami.

“It’s a humbling feeling,” Bhatt says, “and it makes me feel proud of my team. We’re in this little town in Mississippi, and we have extremely hardworking kids in the kitchen making me look good. It’s amazing to even be considered.”

Also feeling the love: NOLA’s Dong Phuong Bakery, named an America’s Classic Restaurant.

Best Chef: Southeast is a contest between Mashama Bailey of the Grey in Savannah, who Allison Glock profiled in 2016, Katie Button of Nightbell in Asheville, Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis, and the celebrated pit master Rodney Scott of Charleston, South Carolina’s Rodney Scott’s BBQ. So, it’s possible that barbecue will prevail over fine dining again; Texas brisket guru Aaron Franklin took home the award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2015. This would be whole hog’s first win. We’re rooting for all the nominees, but Rodney Scott’s BBQ Mixtape is on a repeat loop in the G&G offices today.

Speaking of Texas, this year’s Best Chef: Southwest contenders are Steve McHugh of Cured in San Antonio and Austinites Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine and Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie. John T. Edge waxed poetic about Olamaie in our pages—and, if you’ve ever wanted to fry an egg like a James Beard finalist, we have Bryce Gilmore’s recipe.

We always like to end with a drink, and the James Beard Foundation recommends Outstanding Bar Program nominees Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, Cure in New Orleans, and Kimball House in Decatur, Georgia. For a taste of the fun, you can try Kimball House’s Ramos Gin Fizz at home. NOLA’s Bacchanal and Charleston’s FIG earned nods for their Outstanding Wine Programs. And, finally, there’s one of our long-time favorites: Diane Flynt of Virginia’s Foggy Ridge, who announced the final call for her hard cider last fall.

The James Beard Foundation will reveal the winners at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on Monday, May 7. We wish them all the best of luck.