Nine Twin Cities chefs, a pair of restaurateurs and three restaurants have been named 2019 semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation awards.

The so-called “Oscars of the food world” recognize and celebrate excellence across 21 categories.

In the Beard’s highly competitive national awards, Twin Cities chefs and restaurants made the cut in a six categories, including:

Outstanding Pastry ChefDiane Moua of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. The award honors “A pastry chef or baker who demonstrates exceptional skill, integrity, and character in the preparation of desserts, pastries or breads served in a restaurant.” Moua is a 2016, 2017 and 2018 semifinalist in this category, and a 2018 nominee.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Rikki Giambruno of Hyacinth in St. Paul. The award honors chefs “age 30 or younger who displays exceptional talent, character, and leadership ability, and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.” Giambruno (pictured here with general manager Beth Johnson, left, and chef de cuisine Paul Baker, right) is a first-time semifinalist.

Best New Restaurant: Popol Vuh in Minneapolis. This award honors “a restaurant opened in the last calendar year that already demonstrates excellence in cuisine and hospitality, and that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.” (That's chef Jose Alarcon, pictured, above.)


Outstanding Restaurateur: Brenda Langton and Timothy Kane of Spoonriver in Minneapolis. The award honors “a restaurateur who demonstrates creativity in entrepreneurship and integrity in restaurant operations.” Langton and Kane are first-time semifinalists.

Outstanding Restaurant: Restaurant Alma of Minneapolis. The award honors “a restaurant that has been in business for 10 or more consecutive years that “demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, service and operations.” The restaurant is a 2012 semifinalist in this category.

Outstanding Wine Program: The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. The award honors “a restaurant or bar that demonstrates excellence in wine service through a carefully considered wine list and a well-informed approach to helping customers choose and drink wine.” The restaurant is a first-time semifinalist in this category.

Best Chef: Midwest is the category that garnered the most local names. This year’s semifinalists include:

Thomas Boemer of In Bloom in St. Paul. Boemer is a 2016, 2017 and 2018 semifinalist.

Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis. Brown is a 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018 semifinalist, and a 2017 and 2018 nominee.

Ann Kim of Young Joni in Minneapolis. Kim is a 2017 and 2018 semifinalist, and a 2018 nominee.

Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe in Minneapolis. Malone is a 2014 semifinalist in this category for her work at Sea Change, and a 2018 semifinalist in this category for Grand Cafe.

Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai in Minneapolis. Nguyen is a 2018 semifinalist.

Daniel del Prado of Martina in Minneapolis. Del Prado is a first-time semifinalist.

Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table in Minneapolis. Tomlinson is a first-time semifinalist.

The Best Chef: Midwest award is one of the foundation’s 10 regional chef honors, and it goes chefs working in any kind of dining establishment “who set high culinary standards and also demonstrate integrity and admirable leadership skills in their respective regions.” The Beard’s Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Five Twin Cities chefs are previous Best Chef: Midwest winners: Tim McKee (formerly of La Belle Vie, now at Octo Fishbar) in 2009, Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma) in 2010, Isaac Becker (112 Eatery) in 2011, Paul Berglund (formerly of the Bachelor Farmer, now at Fiddlehead Coffee in Rochester, Minn.) in 2016 and Gavin Kaysen (Spoon and Stable) in 2018. Kaysen is Minnesota’s only national Beard award winner; he was named Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2008 during his tenure at Cafe Boulud in New York City.

For the complete list of 2019 semifinalists, go here.

Wednesday’s semifinalist announcement is the first installment in a months-long, multi-step process.

The semifinalist ballot is distributed among 500-plus voters, including critics, writers, editors and past restaurant and chef award winners. The process is managed by an independent accounting firm, and the top five vote-getters in each category ascend to the nominee level (in the Beard universe, that’s synonymous with “finalist”). Nominees will be announced on March 27.

Once the nominees’ names are made public, a second ballot goes out to the same voting pool. The top vote-getter in that second round is awarded the coveted Beard medallion at the foundation’s annual gala awards ceremony. (There are no cash prizes).

The New York City-based foundation, named for the influential culinarian and cookbook author, established its awards program in 1990. This year’s gala event is scheduled for May 6 at Chicago’s Civic Opera House. 

Nominees in the foundation’s cookbook, media and design awards (there are no semifinalists) will also be announced on March 27. Winners in the cookbook and media categories will be announced at a dinner in New York City on April 26, and design winners will be announced in Chicago on May 6.

Congratulations to all the semifinalists.