In the new best chef, Texas category are:
- Damien Brockway, the pitmaster and owner of barbecue truck Distant Relatives (which was also named Eater Austin food truck of 2021 and one of Eater’s best new restaurants of the same year).
- Iliana de la Vega, the chef and co-owner of Oaxacan and Mexican restaurant El Naranjo. This is her third semifinalist nomination, but she didn’t make the 2020 finalist list.
Two Austin chefs also nabbed semifinalist nods in the emerging chef category:
- Edgar Rico, the chef and co-owner of Mexican restaurant Nixta Taqueria (which was also named Eater Austin’s restaurant of 2021).
- Amanda Turner, the chef de cuisine of Southern restaurant Olamaie. Before she joined the staff, the restaurant’s executive chef and owner Michael Fojtasek had been a three-time finalist in the best chefs category.
As for the San Antonio semifinalists:
- Steven McHugh, the chef behind charcuterie-focused restaurant Cured, has received his sixth semifinalist nomination for a James Beard award, this time for best chef, Texas.
- Esaul Ramos Jr. is the pitmaster for 2M Smokehouse, the East Side barbecue joint that always has a line out the door. His barbecue skills have earned him a spot as a semifinalist for best chef Texas for the second time.
- John Russ of Clementine serves up seasonal, regional dishes with a Southern touch at the Castle Hills-adjacent restaurant. Russ is a semifinalist for best chef, Texas.
- Mixtli, the high-end Mexican restaurant, whose chef and co-owner has a controversial past, is nominated in the Outstanding Restaurant category.
- Sofia Tejeda, the pastry chef at Mixtli, is in the running for outstanding pastry chef, giving the restaurant its second semifinalist nomination this year.
- David Cáceres, of La Panadería, was inspired by San Antonio’s longstanding pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) tradition. This makes his nomination for outstanding baker especially meaningful.
- High Street Wine Co., seated in the bustling Pearl development in the heart of downtown, is a semifinalist for outstanding wine program.
Other Texas places include plenty of Houston and Dallas chefs ; McAllen’s Larry and Jessica Delgado of Delgado Collective in the outstanding restaurateur category; El Paso’s Emiliano Marentes of ELEMI; San Leon’s Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House in the best new restaurant category; Richardson’s Maricsa Trejo of La Casita Bakeshop; Seguin’s Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland of Burnt Bean Co, Lubbock’s Finn Waltero of the Nicolett in the best chef, Texas category.
James Beard Awards are like the Oscars of the food world, so to be nominated is a chance for restaurateurs and chefs to have their Sally Field moment. The finalists will be announced on March 16 with the winners on June 13 during a ceremony in Chicago.
In 2020, the James Beard Foundation created a separate category for Texas chefs, but this year will be the first time the Texas award will be handed out. In the past, Texas chefs were put in the Southwest category.
The 2021 awards were canceled amid an audit following accusations of bias and a messy delayed 2020 awards season, due to a lack of diversity among the winners and the inclusion of controversial chefs. The foundation has implemented some changes going forward to avoid a rehashing of the previous year, including policy changes and the creation of an independent ethics committee.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.