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Two Austin Chefs Receive James Beard Awards Finalist Nominations in First-Ever Texas Category

The finalist list was announced today through Twitter

A pasta dish from Emmer & Rye
A pasta dish from Emmer & Rye
Emmer & Rye/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 2020 finalists were announced today, and there are two Austin chefs who made the list. Under the first-ever Best Chef: Texas category, the finalists include:

  • Kevin Fink, the executive chef and owner of New American grain-obsessed restaurant Emmer & Rye. This is his second finalist nomination. The downtown restaurant is currently open only for takeout and delivery service.
  • Michael Fojtasek, the executive chef and owner of Southern restaurant Olamaie. This is his third finalist nomination. The downtown restaurant is still temporarily closed for now.

Semifinalist chef Iliana de la Vega of Oaxacan and Mexican restaurant El Naranjo did not receive a finalist nod for the second year in a row.

This is the first year that the foundation decided to create a separate Texas category, as well as California to “recognize changing population data, restaurant demographics, and culinary trends.” Previously, Texas chefs were included in the Southwest category.

Easy Tiger head baker David Norman didn’t receive a finalist nomination in the Outstanding Baker category. This was his first time on the semifinalist list. Neither did Larry McGuire, the partner and CEO of the prolific McGuire Moorman Hospitality group (15+ restaurants), in the Outstanding Restaurateur section. This had been his first semi finalist nomination as well.

Also not receiving a finalist nod were Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffings, co-founders of Hill Country brewery Jester King Brewery, who were nominated in the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Producer category for the third time.

James Beard’s classic honorees, which highlights longtime restaurant institutions in the country, had been announced in February. This includes Brownsville, Texas restaurant Vera’s Bar-B-Que.

Originally, the finalists were supposed to be announced on March 25 during an event in Philadelphia, but that was postponed because of concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic. The scheduled award ceremony, which would’ve taken place today, has also been postponed to Friday, September 25, with its format in Chicago to be announced later. The semifinalist list was revealed on February 26.

2019’s Austin finalists in the Southwest category were Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore (this year is the first time in seven years that he hasn’t been nominated), Fink, and Fojtasek.

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

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


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