It was just a month ago that The James Beard Foundation released its list of award semi-finalists, a long roster featuring a none-too-objectionable 22 L.A. names, including BierBeisl and Tar & Roses for "Best New Restaurants," Karen Hatfield for "Best Pastry Chef," and Ricardo Zarate, Josef Centeno, and David LeFevre in the "Best Chef: West" category. For once, it appeared that the members of the Beard committee were actually doting a little more on our city than years past, accurately reflecting the emerging and engaging culinary powerhouses that diners have come to covet. Sadly, most of these deserving names have been scrubbed, as The James Beard Foundation announced its list of finalist nominees today, revealing a scant showing of just five local names, at least four of which The Beards seem to showcase every year.
Mozza makes its expected appearance on the list, with a nomination for perpetual nominee and past winner winner Nancy Silverton in the "Outstanding Chef" category. Mozza is deserving of all the critical praise that falls its way, of course, but it feels like the time is right for the country's premier culinary awards to acknowledge we have some other outstanding restaurants here. After all, Mozza's Matt Molina took home an award for "Best Chef: Pacific" last year after two prior nominations, while Silverton won for "Best New Restaurant" in 2007 and in 1990 for "Best Pastry Chef" at Campanile, among her mountain-sized tally of nominations. We get it. The place rocks.
Elsewhere, Valentino's Piero Selvaggio gets a nod for "Outstanding Restaurateur," footing that would be difficult for anyone to argue against after 40 years of running his wine-focused, service-forward Italian in Santa Monica. In fact, the owner was nominated last year for the exact same spot.
Suzanne Goin gets yet another nomination herself for "Outstanding Chef" (she's had six nominations before this and one win for "Outstanding Service" at Lucques in 2006) at Lucques, while her partner Caroline Styne is also in the running for "Outstanding Restaurateur," an award she was also in the running for last year.
Also reprising their roles as nominees are Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Son of a Gun, certainly two of L.A.'s most exciting chefs who have worked their magic to country-wide consciousness. The two chefs are outnumbered four-to-one by their brothers in San Francisco, sharing a slot for "Best Chef West" with Chris Cosentino, Christopher Kostow, Corey Lee, and Daniel Patterson.
It wouldn't surprise us if the results this year made you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Days. Every year, we're thrilled to see our icons get the recognition they warrant, only to find the Foundation still stuck on the same old obsessions.
Here's hoping The J.B.s will bring more of L.A.'s deserving talent into the running next year, because a city with more than twice the population of its northern neighbors and a solid scene of great restaurants deserves to have a more balanced presence when it comes to who represents the best of The West.
Congratulations to all the L.A. nominees and many thanks for making us proud!