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James Beard Awards Austin Semifinalists 2020: El Naranjo, Easy Tiger, Emmer & Rye

This is the first year for the Texas chef category
Pretzel from Easy Tiger
Easy Tiger/Facebook
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

The James Beard Awards’s semifinalist list for the best restaurants and chefs of 2020 is out right now and five Austin chefs made the initial cut.

Within the first-ever Best Chef: Texas category longlist are:

  • Chef Iliana de la Vega, behind Oaxacan and Mexican restaurant El Naranjo, nabbed her second semifinalist nomination. She actually shut down the original Rainey Street restaurant last year, but its second location on South Lamar remains open.
  • Chef Kevin Fink, of New American grain-obsessed restaurant Emmer & Rye, got his third semifinalist nomination.
  • Chef Michael Fojtasek of Southern restaurant Olamaie, is now a three-time semifinalist.

(Most notably, chef Bryce Gilmore of New Texas restaurant Barley Swine, who had been a semifinalist and a finalist six times in the Best Chef: Southwest section, didn’t make the semifinalist list this year. He also received two semifinalist nods in the Rising Star Chef category.)

In more first-time nomination news: Easy Tiger’s head baker David Norman nabbed his first semifinalist nomination within the Outstanding Baker category.

Larry McGuire of the prolific McGuire Moorman Hospitality group (15+ restaurants) is a first-time semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurateur section.

Then, within the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer category, Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffings of Jester King Brewery received their third nomination. Joining them is first-time nominee Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars in Lubbock.

San Antonio semifinalists in the Texas chef category include 2M Smokehouse’s Esaul Ramos, Carnitas Lonja’s Alex Paredes, and Cured’s Steve McHugh. Snow’s BBQ’s Tootsie Tomanetz was also nominated for the second time.

Fink and Fojtasek made it to the finalist round last year, but no Texas chef won last year. Also, both de la Vega and Yuyu’s Maribel Rivero (who isn’t on this year’s list) received semifinalist nominations last year, but didn’t make it to the finalist list.

This is the first year for the standalone Texas chef category. The foundation decided to split off the state to “recognize changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends,” according to a release last fall. Previously, Texas chefs were nominated (and usually dominated) the Southwest category.

Previous Austin James Beard Award winners include Aaron Franklin (2015), Paul Qui (2012), and Tyson Cole (as a tie in 2011).

Finalists will be announced on Wednesday, March 25; winners in the book/television/journalism categories will be announced at a dinner in New York on Friday, April 24, and the gala acknowledging winners will be held in Chicago on Monday, May 4.

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards.