The James Beard Foundation has announced the semifinalists in its 2011 restaurant and chef awards categories, and the results are peppered with plenty of Minnesota names in seven categories.

First up: Best Chef: Midwest. The award honors "Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Each candidate may be employed by any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for at least the past five years. The three most recent years must have been spent in the region where the chef is presently working." (There are 10 regional awards, including Best Chef: Midwest).

The semifinalists are:

Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery (pictured with Bar La Grassa staffer Ashley Blasig) in Minneapolis. Becker is a 2008, 2009 and 2010 Best Chef: Midwest nominee.


Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul. Russo is a 2010 Best Chef: Midwest nominee.


 Doug Flicker of Piccolo in Minneapolis.


Russell Klein (pictured with his spouse and business partner Desta Klein) of Meritage in St. Paul.


Erik Anderson of Sea Change (second from right, pictured with colleagues Matthew Holmes, Tim McKee and Jim Christiansen).

Minnesotans have won the Best Chef: Midwest award for two years running. Tim McKee of La Belle Vie took the prize in 2009, and Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma was winner in 2010.

In the Beard's national categories, Minnesotans include: 

Outstanding Restaurant: La Belle Vie, Minneapolis. The award honors "A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 10 or more consecutive years."


Outstanding Service: La Belle Vie, Minneapolis. The award honors "A restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least the past five years."


Best New Restaurant: Piccolo, Minneapolis (with chef/owner Doug Flicker in the window). The award honors "A restaurant opened in 2010 that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service and is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come."


Outstanding Pastry Chef: Michelle Gayer, at the Salty Tart Bakery in Minneapolis. Gayer is a 2010 and 2002 (when she was pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago) nominee. The award honors "A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence. Candidates must have been pastry chefs or bakers for at least the past five years."


Rising Star Chef of the Year: Sameh Wadi, chef/co-owner of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge in Minneapolis. The award 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."



Outstanding Restaurateur: Richard and Larry D'Amico, co-owners of D'Amico & Partners (D'Amico Kitchen, Masa, Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat, Campiello, Parma 8200 and D'Amico & Sons. The award honors "A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and ownership. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years."


In contrast to the upcoming Academy Awards -- to which they are constantly compared -- the Beards (well, the restaurant and chef categories, anyway) are a three-step process, involving semifinalists, nominees and winners.

Here's how it works: In the first round of judging, the foundation selects 20 semifinalists in 19 categories. Judges (roughly 600 critics, journalists, food professionals and past chef winners) vote for up to five names in each category.

The top five vote-getters advance to the nomination stage (in Beard-speak, they are referred to as "nominees," and not "finalists"). A second round of voting commences and the top vote-getter among the five nominees is declared the winner at the foundation's annual gala.

Restaurant and chef nominees will be announced on March 21 (follow the news on the Beard's Twitter feed), along with nominees in the foundation's cookbook, design and journalism categories.

The gala awards ceremony is scheduled for May 9 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City (full disclosure: I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee).

Find the complete list of semifinalists here.

Congratulations to all semifinalists. Who will advance and become a nominee? Who is missing? Who will hear their name called out in May? Chime in below in the comments section.

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