The so-called awards season isn’t limited to Hollywood. The James Beard Foundation kicked off the 2013 edition of its annual awards gala (coincidentally themed “Lights. Camera. Taste! Spotlight on Food & Film”) on Tuesday by announcing semifinalists in chef and restaurant categories.

Twin Cities names appear all over the ballot, starting with Best Chef: Midwest, which honors chefs who “set new or consistent standards of excellence” in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Local semifinalists include Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg of Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Robbinsdale, Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul and Steven Brown of Tilia, Mike DeCamp of La Belle Vie, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart, Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar and Sameh Wadi of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, all in Minneapolis.

Russo has advanced to the nominee (Beard-speak for “finalist”) stage for the past three years. Gayer is also a previous nominee — in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category — in 2002 (when she was pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago) and 2010.

Last year’s Best Chef: Midwest winner was Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis., ending a three-year Minneapolis winning streak that included Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in 2009, Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in 2010 and Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery in 2011.

National categories are peppered with Minneapolis names, including:

Lucia’s for Outstanding Restaurant, which honors an American restaurant that “serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service.”

Tim McKee of La Belle Vie for Outstanding Chef, which honors “a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.”

Steve Horton of Rustica for Outstanding Pastry Chef, which honors “a chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence.”

Jamie Malone of Sea Change for Rising Star Chef of the Year, which honors “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.”

Sapor Cafe and Bar for Outstanding Service, which honors restaurants demonstrating “high standards of hospitality and service.”

Marvel Bar for Outstanding Bar Program, which honors a restaurant or bar that demonstrates “excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service.”

Kim Bartmann, owner of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub and Pat’s Tap for Outstanding Restaurateur, which honors “a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and ownership.”

Finally, Eric Seed, owner of Haus Alpenz in Edina, is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional category, which honors “a winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide.”

Find the complete list of semifinalists at

The Beards are frequently compared to the Academy Awards, but here’s a key procedural difference: the Oscars follow a two-step nominee/winner process, while the restaurant and chef categories in the “Oscars of the food world” are a three-step system, with semifinalists, nominees and winners.

Restaurant and chef nominees — the top five vote-getters among semifinalists in each category — will be announced on March 18 from Charleston, S.C., along with nominees in the foundation’s cookbook, design and journalism categories. Winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on May 6 in New York City (full disclosure: I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee).

Congratulations to all the semifinalists.


Birthday bash

For its 15th birthday, La Belle Vie (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., is hosting quite the party on March 24. Expect caviar, small plates, champagne, live music and appearances and contributions by a slew of LBV alums, including Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar and Jim Christiansen of Union. “I’m really looking forward to it,” said chef/owner Tim McKee. “Not many restaurants turn fifteen.” Reservations $150, call 612-874-6440.