The Academy Awards are on Sunday, which means that the Oscars of the food world are not far away.

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

Midwest semifinalists for Best Chef include Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery, Erik Anderson of Sea Change, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market and Russell Klein of Meritage. The five chefs share the category with 15 others from Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri (for the complete list, go to www.jamesbeard.org). Minneapolis chefs have won this category for the past two years: Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in 2009, and Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in 2010.

In the national categories, La Belle Vie is in the running for two awards: Outstanding Service and Outstanding Restaurant. Piccolo landed a second spot, in the Best New Restaurant category.

Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart was recognized in Outstanding Pastry Chef. Sameh Wadi of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge is up for Rising Star Chef of the Year, which honors chefs ages 30 and under. Richard and Larry D'Amico of D'Amico & Partners (D'Amico Kitchen, Masa, Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat, Campiello, Parma 8200 and the company's D'Amico & Sons chain) made the cut in Outstanding Restaurateur (as did Steven Ells, founder of the Chipotle chain).

Semifinalists will move on to the next round of judging (reviewed by roughly 600 critics, journalists, food professionals and past winners), when the top five vote-getters will be announced as nominees on March 21 (in Beard-speak, it's not "finalist," it's "nominee," and, full disclosure, I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee). The winners will be named at the foundation's annual gala in New York City on May 9.

Growing at the MGM

Kitchen in the Market (920 E. Lake St., Mpls.), the unique business inside the Midtown Global Market, has undergone a major expansion. The operation is a collection of caterers and food product manufacturers, going about their work in an unusually open-to-the-public environment. (For a schedule of this weekend's events, see page T3.)

The two-year-old business, owned by Molly Herrmann and Tracy Morgan, has grown threefold -- it's now located in the market's Lake Street-10th Avenue corner -- and the additional space means that its six caterers, seven manufacturers and one food truck are offering direct-to-consumer products and services for the first time.

For diners, that means a changes-daily array of grab-and-go foods prepared that day, ranging from soups to quiches to pie crusts, sauces, dips and other pantry items. One day last week the selection included an East Indian black bean soup, a curried butternut squash soup, a Scottish lentil soup, a smoked paprika goat cheese and several varieties of biscotti and shortbread.

Shoppers can also pick up commercial-grade kitchenware, and participate in a full roster of cooking classes, "from free demos to hands-on participation classes where you cook your dinner," said Herrmann.

Classes will be taught by Kitchen in the Market's own chefs as well as chefs from other Midtown Global Market tenants and Twin Cities restaurants. Learn more and sign up at www.kitcheninthemarket.com.

RICK NELSON