Not a year goes by without the Italian category snagging several nods in the James Beard Foundation’s semifinalist list. And this round, the 29th year and counting, is no different.
The selection not only spotlights the best chefs, establishments, and restaurateurs in the space, it also illustrates the ongoing evolution in Italian dining.
That Jersey draw: The Garden State has no shortage of Italian descents, but its reputation for exceptional fare has historically paled in comparison to its New York neighbor. No more. The mid-Atlantic region amassed the largest collection of semifinalist chefs in the Italian category, and all but one of those chefs (namely, Amy Brandwein of Centrolina in Washington, D.C.) operate in New Jersey.
When fusion went west: “Fusion” is hardly a new term in the fine-dining world. Indeed, many lesser known dishes and cuisines have been introduced to American diners through concepts that blend more familiar fare (think: Chinese) with more obscure foods (Laotian, for example).
But by and large, such blends have been almost exclusively confined to Asian cuisines, not western ones. This year’s list of semifinalists demonstrates that could be about to change. Rising Chef nominee Alexander Hong elevates so-called Cal-Ital with plates including a sunchoke-studded agnolotti and an acquerello carnaroli risotto with Japanese maitake at Sorrel in San Francisco.
Similarly, at Boston’s Menton, Giselle Miller romances the menu with both French and Italian flourishes.
Pizza gets its due: America’s undying love for pizza is no secret, but the simple pie has often been regarded as a de facto comfort food with little potential beyond the standard formula. Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalists Ruth Gresser and Ethan Stowell specialize in pizza while Best Chef–Mid-Atlantic nominee Dan Richer crafts pies with such inventive ingredients as raisins, pine nuts, and fig jam at Razza Pizza Artigianale.
The James Beard Foundation will announce its final nominees March 27 with the awards ceremony taking place in New York City April 26. For the full list of semi-finalists, check out our full coverage.
Best New Restaurant
Bardea Food & Drink, Wilmington, Delaware
Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde, Chicago
Miss Robbins, Lilia, Brooklyn, New York
Fabio Trabocchi, Fiola, Washington, D.C.
Marc Vetri, Vetri Cucina, Philadelphia
Paul Bartolotta and Joe Bartolotta, The Bartolotta Restaurants, Milwaukee
Ruth Gresser, Pizzeria Paradiso
Ethan Stowell, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, Seattle
Chef Vola’s, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Outstanding Wine Program
Bar Marco, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ops, Brooklyn, New York
Rising Star Chef
Evan Gaudreau, Renzo, Charleston, South Carolina
Alexander Hong, Sorrel, San Francisco
Giselle Miller, Menton, Boston
Ian Redshaw, Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria, Charlottesville, Virginia
Cassie Shortino, Tratto, Phoenix
Best Chef by Region
Anthony Lombardo, SheWolf Pastificio & Bar, Detroit
Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood, New Jersey
Amy Brandwein, Centrolina, Washington, D.C.
Randy Forrester, Osteria Radici, Allentown, New Jersey
Dan Richer, Razza Pizza Artigianale, Jersey City, New Jersey
New York City
Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito, Don Angie
Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, Via Carota
Beau Schooler, In Bocca Al Lupo, Juneau, Alaska
Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis, Tennessee
David Uygur, Lucia, Dallas