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Semifinalists announced for first-ever James Beard Award for Texas chefs

Matthew Odam
Chef Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie earned his third regional Best Chef semifinalist nomination. (TAMIR KALIFA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The eyes of the James Beard Foundation have firmly settled on Texas, as the Lone Star State this year has its own regional category for Best Chef. You would think that moving Texas from the Southwest region into its own region would mean many more semifinalists from Austin. You’d think wrong.

While five Austin chefs made the Southwest region semifinals last year, only three of the 20 semifinalists in the Texas region come from Austin. And they were all semifinalists last year. Michael Fojtasek of #1 restaurant in the Austin360 Dining Guide, Olamaie, is a semifinalist, along with repeat semifinalist Kevin Fink of 2018 #1 Austin restaurant Emmer & Rye, and repeat semifinalist Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo, who moved her Oaxacan-inspired Mexican restaurant from Rainey Street to South Lamar last year.

Houston had the most semfinalists of any Texas city in the regional award group with five. This is the first time in eight years that Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore did not get a nomination. It was also a strong year for diversity in the state; eight of the 20 semifinalists are women and 12 are people of color. Check out the complete list of nominees on the Beard Foundation site.

In addition to the regional award, an Austinite earned a rare semifinalist nod in the Outstanding Restaurateur Award, with Larry McGuire of McGuire Moorman Hospitality (Perla’s, Elizabeth Street Cafe, et al) getting a nomination in the category that requires a decade of effort as a prerequisite.

David Norman, who will soon be opening a location of his Easy Tiger on South Lamar, earned a semifinalist nomination for Best Baker and the Stuffings brothers (Jeffrey and Michael) at Jester King have once again earned a semifinalist honor for Outstanding WIne, Spirits or Beer Producer. The Beard finalists will be announced in March, and the awards will be handed out in Chicago on May 3.


2019 Austin360 Dining Guide: #1 Olamaie | #5 Emmer & Rye | El Naranjo (not eligible for the guide last year due to its opening date at new location)

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