Let the speculating begin.
The James Beard Foundation has announced the semifinalists in its 2012 restaurant and chef awards categories, and the results include a number of Twin Cities names in categories ranging from the Midwest's best chef to the nation's best new restaurant, bar program and pastry chef.
The Best Chef: Midwest 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." (For purposes of its regional chef awards, the Beards split the country into 10 regions, including the Midwest, which covers Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri).
The Minnesota semifinalists for Best Chef: Midwest are:
Mike Brown (top) and James Winberg (above) of Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Robbinsdale.
Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis.
Doug Flicker of Piccolo in Minneapolis.
Russell Klein of Meritage in St. Paul.
Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul. Russo is a 2010 and 2011 Best Chef: Midwest nominee.
Stewart Woodman (pictured with spouse and business partner Heidi Woodman) of Heidi's in Minneapolis.
Other semifinalists in the category include chefs in Milwaukee, Madison, Des Moines, Omaha, Rapid City, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.
Minneapolis has had a lock the Best Chef: Midwest award for the past three years.
Pictured, above, left to right:: Tim McKee of La Belle Vie took the prize in 2009, Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma was the winner in 2010 and Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery was awarded the medallion in 2011. McKee was the first Minneapolis chef to win the award.
In national categories, Minneapolis semifinalists include:
Outstanding Restaurant: Restaurant Alma. 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 Chef: Tim McKee of La Belle Vie. The award honors "A working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Candidates must have been working as chefs for at least the past five years."
Outstanding Service: Manny's Steakhouse. 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."
Outstanding Bar Program: La Belle Vie (that's bartender Johnny Michaels, above). The award, new in 2012, recognizes a restaurant or bar "that demonstrates excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service."
Best New Restaurant: The Bachelor Farmer. The award honors "A restaurant opened in 2011 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 of the Salty Tart Bakery. 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 (above, right, with brother and business parter Saed Wadi, left) of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge. 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 D'Amico (pictured, left) and Larry D'Amico (right) of D'Amico & Partners (D'Amico Kitchen, Masa, Gather and Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat in Minneapolis, Campiello in Eden Prairie, Parma 8200 in Bloomington, the D'Amico & Sons chain and several restaurants in Naples, Fla.). 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."
(Note: All photos are Star Tribune file photos).
A Minnesota connection in Nashville also grabbed some Beard attention: The Catbird Seat, the work of chefs Josh Habiger (formerly of Porter & Frye in Minneapolis) and Erik Anderson (formerly of Sea Change in Minneapolis), is a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category.
Find the complete list of semifinalists here.
The Beards are often referred to as the "Oscars of the food world." But unlike this weekend's Academy Awards and its two-step nominee/winner process, the Beard's restaurant and chef categories are a three-step system, involving semifinalists, nominees and winners.
In the first round of judging, the foundation selects 20 semifinalists in 20 categories. Judges (hundreds of critics, journalists, food professionals and past winners) vote for up to five names in each category.
Here's where the syntax gets a bit confusing: The top five vote-getters among the semifinalists advance to the nomination stage, and are called "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 action on the Beard's Twitter feed) from Las Vegas, along with nominees in the foundation's cookbook, design and journalism categories.
Winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on May 7 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City (Full disclosure: I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee).
Congratulations to all semifinalists. And now on to the armchair quarterbacking: Who will advance and become a nominee? Who is missing? Who will hear their name called out in May?
Share your thoughts in the comments section.