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James Beard Awards 2018: Here’s Who Should Win

Eater editors name their picks

On this coming Monday, May 7, chefs, restaurateurs, and various industry insiders will gather in Chicago for the James Beard Awards, considered among the highest honors in the American food world. As has become tradition, Eater’s editors are here with endorsements for who they hope to see take the medals home.

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily reflect who the editors think will take the medals home. As Eater data has borne out again and again, the 600-plus voting body that decides the winners has its fair share of patterns, biases, and groupthink. Historically women don’t fare all that well compared to male competitors in the same category; Outstanding Chef winners who are women have been significantly older, generally, than the men who take home the top prize. Likewise, in the regional category, women and pairs have largely been at a disadvantage. Best Chef nominees with multiple nominations fare better than first timers, but last year, that started to shift. That’s good, and I hope it continues.

But things might be changing in a more significant way, especially this year, as the semifinalist list and the restaurant committee that created it explicitly aimed to tackle #MeToo. Only the final results will reveal how much progress the community responsible for the Beard Awards has made toward delivering us, America’s dining obsessives, a more equitable — and, frankly, a more relevant — winners list.

As always, the picks below reflect each editor’s particular area of expertise and obsession. Without further ado, here’s who we’re hoping to see win.

Best New Restaurant

  • The Charter Oak, St. Helena CA
  • Empellón Midtown, NYC
  • Felix Trattoria, Venice CA
  • JuneBaby, Seattle
  • Kismet, Los Angeles

Eater endorses... JuneBaby

“This year’s Best New Restaurant candidates are an exciting — and pleasingly surprising — mix, but my money’s on Edouardo Jordan’s headline-making Southern restaurant JuneBaby. From the time the Seattle star first teased his plans, promising a restaurant where he would explore his Southern roots with historical rigor and a casual setting, JuneBaby has been at the forefront of the national dining conversation — as an anticipated opening, as a buzzy new restaurant striding into town with an encyclopedia and a killer catfish, and then as an instant essential, earning rave after rave after rave, and taking home Eater’s own Best New Restaurant award. To me, it’s a no brainer.” — Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater restaurant editor | All JuneBaby Coverage [ESEA]

Outstanding Baker

  • Dianna Daoheung, Black Seed Bagels, NYC
  • Zachary Golper, Bien Cuit, Brooklyn NY
  • Maura Kilpatrick, Sofra Bakery and Café, Cambridge MA
  • Belinda Leong and Michel Suas, B. Patisserie, San Francisco
  • Alison Pray, Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME
  • Greg Wade, Publican Quality Bread, Chicago

Eater endorses... Belinda Leong and Michel Suas

To spare my colleague Daniela Galarza from rage-stroking, I will present her argument — which she has made every year since Eater started running these endorsements:

”Belinda Leong and Michel Suas deserve national recognition for the breadth, creativity, and consistency of their work. Both Leong and Suas have evolved their craft into a bakery setting after years of managing dessert menus at fine dining restaurants, and their attention to detail yields truly prize-worthy results. By now, most of the country has heard about their stunning kouign amann — available in half a dozen seasonal flavors. Thanks to their hard work, B. Patisserie remains one of the best bakeries and pastry shops in the country.” — Daniela Galarza, Eater senior editor | All B. Patisserie Coverage [ESF]

Outstanding Bar Program

  • Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston
  • Bar Agricole, San Francisco
  • Clyde Common, Portland OR
  • Cure, New Orleans
  • Kimball House, Decatur GA
  • Trick Dog, San Francisco

Eater endorses... Kimball House

“Kimball House is the perfect bar: The space is gorgeous; the drinks list is smart, fun, and incredibly well curated; and you’ll want the people behind the bar and on the floor to be your best friends. What puts it over the top, though, is the food — which classifies handily as some of the best bar food in the country, whether during the classic oyster happy hour, the Southern-tinged Sunday lunch, or the full dinner service — and the strong sense of community that imbues everything that the bar’s team does. Since it opened in Decatur, Georgia, in 2012, it’s become an institution, a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, and definitely one of the best bars in the country.” — Sonia Chopra, Eater director of editorial strategy | All Kimball House Coverage [EATL]

Outstanding Chef

  • Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Diner, Raleigh NC
  • Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune, NYC
  • David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos CA
  • Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood | St. Helena CA
  • Donald Link, Herbsaint, New Orleans

Eater endorses… Gabrielle Hamilton

“My endorsement from last year still stands: All of these chefs cook incredible food, each in their own way. But what we’re looking for here is the chef who has ‘set national industry standards’ and ‘served as an inspiration to other food professionals,’ and I think Gabrielle Hamilton edges out the other contenders on those fronts. Her cooking is powerful, graceful, seemingly effortless and deceivingly simple. She’s inspiring not just in the style of her food or the hospitality of her restaurant but in who she is and what she represents as a national figure. Through her column, her memoir, her Mind of a Chef season, she relays her devotion to pleasure and her commitment to quality, all wrapped in a wild sense of humor and strong dose of humility. Any one of these chefs deserves to win. But it should go to her.” — Amanda Kludt, Eater editor-in-chief | All Prune Coverage [ENY]

Outstanding Pastry Chef

  • Kelly Fields, Willa Jean, New Orleans
  • Meg Galus, Boka, Chicago
  • Margarita Manzke, République, Los Angeles
  • Dolester Miles, Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham AL
  • Diane Yang, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis

Eater endorses… Margarita Manzke

“There’s a strong argument for why each of these women should be named outstanding in their field. But Marge Manzke, of LA’s République, stands out (as she did last year, too). She is one of few pastry chefs who know the savory side of the kitchen just as well as they do the sweet side, and some years ago quietly mastered bread baking. Her repertoire is vast, and borrows from French, Spanish, Italian, American, South American, and Asian techniques. For flavor, she finds influences near and far, from guava and California’s incredible citrus and summer berries to Persian pistachios, Italian olive oil, and Mexican dulce de leche.

“Every morning Manzke and her team display more than two dozen distinct breakfast treats — both savory and sweet — as well as an array of breads at République. And then they offer a thoughtful dessert menu in the same space each night. But Manzke, and her husband and business partner Walter, also own and operate half a dozen bakeries in Manila, Philippines, where they serve a similar menu of baked goods. Manzke isn’t one to call attention to herself, and perhaps this is why her name is not better known. But her work speaks volumes — and deserves every award.” — Daniela Galarza, Eater senior editor | All République Coverage [ELA]

Outstanding Restaurant

  • Balthazar, NYC
  • Canlis, Seattle
  • Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder CO
  • Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham AL
  • Quince, San Francisco

Eater endorses… Balthazar

“This strange nominee list presents one of the biggest upsets of the year: the absence of Momofuku Noodle Bar after multiple years nominated (and multiple years endorsed by Eater). I always assumed David Chang’s groundbreaking ramen shop was losing due to NYC vote splitting with the Spotted Pig; that restaurant being essentially barred from competition this year, I assumed this would finally, rightly, be Momofuku Noodle Bar’s year to win. But the voters disagreed.

“And so the choice must be Balthazar, and for many of the same reasons I’d have rooted for Noodle Bar. Simply put, it’s impossible to think of a major city that doesn’t have its own imitation of Keith McNally’s ode to Parisian brasseries. Even Paris has a Balthazar knockoff! But what McNally did, ever so coolly, was not tell us anything about Paris. Instead, he told us everything about a certain scene in New York. And he taught New York to want the classics served in a setting that pulses with status and comfort, in roughly equal measure. It’s no wonder chic day-to-night spots are everywhere now. McNally earned the Outstanding Restaurateur award back in 2010, but in 2018, Balthazar’s legacy seems clearer than ever.” — Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater restaurant editor | All Balthazar Coverage [ENY]

Outstanding Restaurateur

  • Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, Boka Restaurant Group (Boka; GT Fish & Oyster; Girl & the Goat and others), Chicago
  • JoAnn Clevenger (Upperline), New Orleans
  • Ken Oringer (Uni; Little Donkey; Toro; and others), Boston
  • Caroline Styne, The Lucques Group (Lucques; a.o.c.; Tavern; and others), Los Angeles
  • Ellen Yin, High Street Hospitality Group (Fork; High Street on Market; High Street on Hudson and others), Philadelphia

Eater endorses… Ellen Yin

”Ellen Yin has been guiding Philadelphia’s restaurant scene for more than 20 years, since she first opened Fork on an unlikely block in the city’s ever-changing Historic District. In 2013, Yin opened another critically acclaimed eatery next door — High Street on Market was one of Philly’s first notable all-day restaurants. Yin was working on bringing High Street to New York with chef Eli Kulp, newly made a co-owner of the restaurants, when Kulp was severely injured in the 2015 Amtrak train derailment. Yin still managed to open High Street on Hudson to much praise.” — Rachel Vigoda, Eater Philly editor | All High Street on Market Coverage [EPHL]

Outstanding Service

  • Boka, Chicago
  • Saison, San Francisco
  • Zahav, Philadelphia
  • Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Ann Arbor MI
  • Zuni Café, San Francisco

Eater endorses... Zahav

“The Beards recognized Zahav’s food last year when chef Michael Solomonov took home the award for Outstanding Chef. While Solomonov’s Israeli cuisine is certainly outstanding, it’s just part of what makes the Philadelphia restaurant one of the best in America, and this year, it’s the front of house’s turn for recognition. Zahav’s warm, seamless service is led by GM Okan Yazici. Yazici’s dedication to Zahav’s success is clear — he started working as a busser the first year Zahav opened and worked his way up to become an equity partner last year. It’s also worth noting that Zahav is the only restaurant in this category to appear for the second year in a row. But, the increased likelihood of a multiple-time nominee winning aside, Zahav deserves it.” — Monica Burton, Eater associate restaurant editor | All Zahav Coverage [EPHL]

Rising Star Chef of the Year

  • Camille Cogswell (Zahav, Philadelphia)
  • Clare de Boer (King, NYC)
  • Sarah Rinkavage (Marisol, Chicago)
  • Miles Thompson (Michael’s, Santa Monica CA)
  • Kevin Tien, Himitsu (Washington D.C.)

Eater endorses... Miles Thompson

“Miles Thompson is one of the best young chefs in all of Los Angeles, a city already brimming with talent. He’s on the second leg of his journey through the culinary landscape after spending the early 2010s manifesting brilliance with a pop-up in his living room called the Vagrancy Project and a stint as executive chef of the forward-thinking Allumette in Echo Park. A move to Napa and a few gigs later, Thompson is back to run the good ship Michael’s in Santa Monica. The decades-old star has lifted up luminaries from Jonathan Waxman to Nancy Silverton, and now with Thompson the room is once again full, diners smiling over plates of pork collar with radish kimchi or a Sichuan peppercorn-braised octopus. Miles Thompson is still very young, but already he’s showing just how grown-up he’s become.” — Farley Elliott, Eater LA senior editor | All Michael’s Coverage [ELA]

Regional Best Chef Awards

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)

  • Andrew Brochu (Roister, Chicago)
  • Abraham Conlon (Fat Rice, Chicago)
  • Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute, Chicago)
  • David Posey and Anna Posey (Elske, Chicago)
  • Lee Wolen (Boka, Chicago)

Eater endorses... Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark

“Once again, Chicago chefs swept the nominees, for good reason — all of them are deserving of a Beard Award — and once again I am betting on Beverly Kim and Jonny Clark. It’s about time these two get it, after missing out on Best New Restaurant three years ago and this award last year and the year before. Their food, and the restaurant as a whole, is one of the most distinctive and influential offerings in the country, hands down.” — Daniel Gerzina, Eater Chicago editor | All Parachute Coverage [ECHI]

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)

  • Amy Brandwein (Centrolina, Washington D.C.)
  • Tom Cunanan (Bad Saint, Washington D.C.)
  • Rich Landau (Vedge, Philadelphia)
  • Jeremiah Langhorne (The Dabney, Washington D.C.)
  • Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Baltimore)

Eater endorses... Tom Cunanan

“Is Tom Cunanan solely responsible for the Filipino food boom that continues to enthrall D.C. diners? Some might say so. But it’s unlikely the electrifying chef at one of the city’s most sought-after restaurants even has time to contemplate such theories with dozens of eaters continuing to line up outside critically acclaimed Bad Saint each and every night it’s open. First-timers and seasoned vets are treated exactly the same at the no-reservations, 24-seat temple to Pinoy dining: everyone waits in line, and is ultimately treated to a carefully choreographed journey through Filipino cuisine. Crowd favorites include grilled pork belly flanked by chile-spiked soy dipping sauce; garlicky pasta tossed with rendered crab ‘fat’ and sea urchin; and curry dishes that bring tears of joy to the faces of spice addicts.” — Warren Rojas, Eater DC editor | All Bad Saint Coverage [EDC]

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)

  • Karen Bell (Bavette La Boucherie, Milwaukee)
  • Steven Brown (Tilia, Minneapolis)
  • Justin Carlisle (Ardent, Milwaukee)
  • Gavin Kaysen (Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis)
  • Ann Kim (Young Joni, Minneapolis)

Eater endorses… Gavin Kaysen

“It’s been 10 years since Gavin Kaysen won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef. In that time, the chef has delivered on the promise of his early career, but not by doing what was expected. In 2014 he opened his first restaurant in his home state of Minnesota and soon began pulling in positive reviews. Last year he opened his second and proved that even while fine-tuning Spoon and Stable, he could pull off a feat of flawless French bistro service out in the suburb of Wayzata: Bellecour. Kaysen has not only improved the culinary offerings of this area, but also strengthened the community, working with other chefs and often repeating his mantra: ‘Many ships raise the tide.’ His success, and his high profile, creates a spotlight to shine on the Midwest.

“That said, this is about the food, and his cooking has never been more inspired, sharper, or more delicious. Perhaps it’s because of the collaborators he’s picked up along the way, but somehow, the ex-New Yorker found his footing in the quaint, quality, persistent ways of this part of the country. Kaysen might be the somewhat obvious choice as a winner in this category, but it isn’t because his name is familiar or his face has appeared on all the food TV shows, it’s because he has earned it.” — Joy Summers, Eater Twin Cities editor | All Spoon and Stable Coverage [ETC]

Best Chef: New York City

  • Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy)
  • Ignacio Mattos (Estela)
  • Missy Robbins (Lilia)
  • Alex Stupak (Empellón Midtown)
  • Jody Williams (Buvette Gastrothèque)

Eater endorses... Ignacio Mattos

Last year, Eater endorsed Ignacio Mattos for this very same category for his cooking ‘that feels uniquely his and more modern than ever.’ That sentiment hasn’t changed, but what has is the breakout success of his two newer restaurants, Flora Bar and Cafe Altro Paradiso. While Estela established Mattos as a chef who can take overused ingredients (burrata, tartare) and somehow still surprise and delight, Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar cemented his status as a leading chef in New York City. The two venues display the same qualities that make Estela special — buzzy vibes, standout wine, and banging food — while proving that Mattos is not a one-hit wonder.” — Stefanie Tuder, Eater NY senior editor | All Estela Coverage [ENY]

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY State, RI, VT)

  • Karen Akunowicz (Myers + Chang, Boston)
  • Tiffani Faison (Tiger Mama, Boston)
  • Tony Messina (Uni, Boston)
  • Cassie Piuma (Sarma, Somerville MA)
  • Benjamin Sukle (Oberlin, Providence)

Eater endorses... Cassie Piuma

“Really feeling the deja vu this year… and I’m pretty sure I said that last year as well! Karen Akunowicz has been in this category every year since 2015; Cassie Piuma was in it in ’15 and ’17; and it’s the second year for Benjamin Sukle. With Tiffani Faison and Tony Messina rounding out the category, there’s just incredible talent all around, and I’ll be thrilled for whoever takes home the prize. They all do our region proud. But if I had to predict which one will win, I think it’s Piuma’s year. Sarma has really become an institution at the level of its big sister Oleana — it’s probably one of the hardest reservations in town to land these days, and it’s been creeping onto the national scene in a way that will help earn Piuma this recognition. But can’t we just change the rules and give them all awards? This category has me feeling great about the state of the Boston food scene.” — Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor | All Sarma Coverage [EBOS]

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)

  • Edouardo Jordan (Salare, Seattle)
  • Katy Millard (Coquine, Portland OR)
  • Bonnie Morales (Kachka, Portland OR)
  • Justin Woodward (Castagna, Portland OR)
  • Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi (Joule, Seattle)

Eater endorses... Bonnie Morales

“Bonnie Morales did something amazing with Kachka: She took a restaurant that was deeply personal and made it irresistibly fun. Her old-school family recipes are fresh and stylish, from her gorgeous, causa-like herring under a fur coat to those dreamy pelmeni dumplings. Kachka is a place to sip vodka shots with half-sour picklebacks, but it’s also a place to taste thoughtful, surprising dishes rich with context and history. It’s hard to pull off both, and Morales does so with sophistication.” — Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater PDX editor | All Kachka Coverage [EPDX]

Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, Puerto Rico)

  • Vishwesh Bhatt (Snackbar, Oxford MS)
  • Nina Compton (Compère Lapin, New Orleans)
  • Jose Enrique (Jose Enrique, San Juan PR)
  • Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus (Coquette, New Orleans)
  • Brad Kilgore (Alter, Miami)
  • Slade Rushing (Brennan’s, New Orleans)

Eater endorses... Nina Compton

“Nina Compton could have continued to ride her success on Top Chef, but instead she created a restaurant that contributes meaningfully and thoughtfully to to the inevitable evolution of New Orleans’s revered culinary canon, Compère Lapin. At her newest restaurant, Bywater American Bistro, she chose to empower and highlight another promising chef by partnering with Levi Raines, her Compère sous. Empowering those who work with you and respecting their work in such a profound way is, to me, one of the most important qualities of a great chef or any great leader.” — Stephanie Carter, Eater NOLA editor | All Compère Lapin Coverage [ENOLA]

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)

  • Mashama Bailey (The Grey, Savannah GA)
  • Katie Button (Nightbell, Asheville NC)
  • Cassidee Dabney (The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland TN)
  • Rodney Scott (Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Charleston SC)
  • Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis)

Eater endorses... Mashama Bailey

“Mashama Bailey should absolutely win Best Chef: Southeast. If for nothing else, she deserves this title for peeling back the culinary narrative of Savannah, Georgia, once dominated by disgraced butter queen Paula Deen, to reveal a more honest approach to Southern cuisine and its ties to African culture. Bailey’s restaurant the Grey sits in a former Greyhound bus station transformed from a segregated space to a knockout dining room and bar staffed with a diverse group of front- and back-of-house employees. Her food combines fine dining techniques with modern Southern flavors, as in foie gras served with grits, applesauce, and red wine gravy: The flavors and ingredients are folded together so beautifully that one can’t helped be impressed with the complexity, yet still wonder, ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?’” — Erin Perkins, Eater Charleston editor

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, OK, TX, UT)

  • Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie, Austin)
  • Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine, Austin)
  • Steve McHugh (Cured, San Antonio)
  • Martín Rios (Restaurant Martín, Santa Fe NM)
  • Alex Seidel (Mercantile Dining & Provision, Denver)

Eater endorses… Bryce Gilmore

”It’s about time for Odd Duck/Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore to win, since this is his sixth nomination. There’s a good reason why one of his restaurants, Odd Duck, was named one of Eater’s 38 essential restaurants of the state: The chef is Texas through and through, and his commitment to using local ingredients from local farms leads to inventive dishes that hit the spot every time. (As a side note, it’s ridiculous that Austin’s Kemuri Tatsu-ya — one of Texas’s most exciting dining experiences right now — did not make the shortlist for Best New Restaurant.)” — Nadia Chaudhury, Eater Austin editor | All Barley Swine Coverage [EATX]

Best Chef: West (CA, HI, NV)

  • Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles)
  • Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn, San Francisco)
  • Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica CA)
  • Jessica Koslow (Sqirl, Los Angeles)
  • Travis Lett (Gjelina, Venice CA)

Eater endorses... Dominique Crenn

“After years as one of SF’s top chefs, Crenn has received her fifth nod from the Beard Foundation. She’s been nominated for Best Chef: West twice, and made it to the semifinalist category twice — perhaps this is the year that the phenom with a growing restaurant empire and two-Michelin-starred flagship will seal the deal. Though in good company, Crenn has been operating at the top of her game throughout the year, opening a Parisian wine bar, hiring top talent to lead her teams, and using every opportunity to speak out on gender and equality in the restaurant industry.” — Ellen Fort, Eater SF editor | All Atelier Crenn Coverage [ESF]

and also... Jessica Koslow

“In his December 2012 review of Sqirl, Jonathan Gold declared that the counter-service breakfast and lunch restaurant in Los Angeles was ‘as dedicated to eggs and green vegetables as Animal is to dangling bits of swine.’ In April of 2018, when counter-service breakfast and lunch restaurants dedicated to eggs and green vegetables dot every aspirational neighborhood in America, and the offal-laden late-’00s are an overstuffed dream, Gold’s review reads like a changing of the guard. Koslow’s vision, creativity, and brilliance as a chef have shaped our culinary moment in an unmatchable way — and this is only her first nomination.

“The Beards tend to favor established careers in the Best Chef categories, and I wouldn’t be mad in the slightest if Dominique Crenn finally gets her due, but part of Koslow’s achievement was helping to fuel a culinary revolution from a tiny kitchen in a cramped storefront serving breakfast. It would be a welcome change for the Beards to honor Koslow now, and celebrate the singular small, everyday restaurants transforming how, where, and what we eat.” — Meghan McCarron, Eater special correspondent | All Sqirl Coverage [ELA]

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater’s restaurant editor.
Photoillustration: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Photo credits, clockwise from top right: Edouardo Jordan (Suzi Pratt/Eater); Gabrielle Hamilton (Melanie Dunea/Prune); Dominique Crenn (Patricia Chang/Eater SF); Mashama Bailey (Sarah Kohut); Nina Compton (Denny Culbert/Compere Lapin); Bonnie Morales (Dina Avila/Eater).
Special thanks: Emma Alpern, Erin DeJesus
Note: Eater’s national critic Bill Addison is on the James Beard restaurant and chef awards committee but is recused from covering the Beards and did not participate in making this story.


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