james beard glossary

Semifinalist: The James Beard restaurant and chef awards are a three-part-process, and semifinalist is the first step. The foundation's Restaurant and Chef Committee selects 20 candidates in 21 categories. (Full disclosure: I am a former member of this committee.) Releasing the semifinalist list to the public is a fairly recent phenomenon; until 2008, the list was a not-so-carefully guarded secret. The ballot goes out to a pool of 500-plus voters, including critics, writers and editors, culinary educators and past chef award winners.

Nominee: The top five vote-getters in each category ascend to the nominee level (think "finalist"). This year's nominees will be announced on March 24. Once the nominees' names are made public, a second ballot goes out to the voting pool.

Winner: The top vote-getter in each category is awarded the coveted Beard medallion at a gala awards ceremony. This year's event is being held on May 4 in Chicago.

The James Beard awards feature 21 restaurant and chef categories, including:

Outstanding Restaurant: "A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service."

Outstanding Chef: "A working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals."

Best New Restaurant: "A restaurant opened in the calendar year before the award will be given that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service, and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come."

Rising Star Chef of the Year: "A chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come."

Outstanding Pastry Chef: "A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads in a restaurant, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence."

Outstanding Baker: "A chef or baker who prepares breads, pastries or desserts in a retail bakery, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence."

Outstanding Restaurateur: "A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship."

Outstanding Service: "A restaurant in operation five or more years that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service."

Outstanding Wine Program: "A restaurant in operation five or more years that serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine."

Outstanding Bar Program: "A restaurant or bar that demonstrates excellence in cocktails, spirits and/or beer service."

Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional: "A beer, wine or spirits professional who has made a significant national impact on the restaurant industry."

Best Chef: Midwest: "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." For 10 regional chef awards, the country is divided into 10 geographic districts. The Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.