Semifinalists Announced for 2012 James Beard Awards

It’s awards season, and the Seattle food scene is again abuzz about the just-announced James Beard Award nominations. Today we learned who the semifinalists are, with that list getting whittled down to finalists on March 19, and winners announced on May 7.

The full list is well-worth a look. On the national level, Altura earned a nomination as best new restaurant. (I agree!) Canlis cashes in for both Best Restaurant and Best Wine Program categories. Perennial participant Tom Douglas is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur, Holly Smith for Outstanding Chef, and Blaine Wetzel for Rising Star Chef (meaning under 30). In the new Outstanding Bar Program, Zig Zag Cafe represents Seattle.

Especially interesting is the Best Chef Northwest category, which this year features interesting semifinalists from Seattle and further afield in Washington state:

  • Chris Ainsworth, Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen (Walla Walla)
  • Matt Costello, Inn at Langley (Langley)
  • Matt Dillon, Sitka and Spruce
  • Renee Erickson, Boat Street Cafe
  • Jason Franey, Canlis
  • Ethan Stowell, Staple and Fancy Mercantile
  • Jason Stratton, Spinasse
  • Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, Joule

I’m always curious about the Portland nominees, and the list there is also solid (including three from elsewhere in Oregon):

  • Aaron Barnett, St. Jack
  • Matthew Bennet, Sybaris (Albany)
  • John Gorham, Toro Bravo
  • Christopher Israel, Grüner
  • Brendan Mahaney, Belly (Eugene)
  • Naomi Pomeroy, Beast
  • Adam Sappington, The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar
  • Cathy Whims, Nostrana
  • Justin Wills, Restaurant Beck (Depoe Bay)

The other regional nominees:

  • Jeff Drew, Snake River Grill (Jackson Hole, WY)
  • James Honaker, Bistro Enzo (Billings, MT)
  • Jeff Keys, Vintage Restaurant (Ketchum, ID)

My early guess is that Seattle and Portland will be almost split in the final five contenders for the Best Chef Northwest category. Stay tuned!