Twelve Twin Cities chefs, bakers and restaurants have been named 2018 semifinalists in the food world's highest honors, the James Beard Foundation awards.

The so-called "Oscars of the food world" recognize excellence across 21 chef- and restaurant-related categories.

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

Thomas Boemer of Corner Table in Minneapolis. Boemer is a 2016 and 2017 semifinalist.

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

Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack Bay City in Bay City, Wis. Carlson is a 2017 semifinalist.

Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. Kaysen is the 2008 winner of the Rising Star Chef of the Year award, for his work at Cafe Boulud in New York City.

Ann Kim of Young Joni in Minneapolis. Kim is a 2017 semifinalist.

Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe in Minneapolis (pictured here with the restaurant's chef de cuisine, Alan Hlebaen). Malone is a 2014 semifinalist in this category, and a 2013 semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, both for her work at Sea Change.

Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai in Minneapolis. Nguyen is a first-time semifinalist.

Also in the mix: Jay Sparks of Lovechild in La Crosse, Wis. (pictured here with partner Joan Ferris). Although he's no longer cooking in the Twin Cities, Sparks was the longtime corporate chef at D'Amico and Partners. He is a first-time semifinalist.

The award – it's one of the Beard's 10 regional chef honors – goes to chefs working in any kind of dining establishment "who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions." Candidates must have been working as chefs for at least five years, with the past three in the region. The Beard's Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Four 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 and Paul Berglund (formerly of the Bachelor Farmer, now with Vestalia Hospitality) in 2016. Last year's winner was Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis.

In the Beard's highly competitive national awards, Twin Cities chefs and restaurants made the cut in the following categories:

Best New Restaurant: Grand Cafe in Minneapolis. The award honors a restaurant opened in the calendar year prior to the award "that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service, and that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come."

Outstanding Chef: Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis. 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." Roberts is a 2017 semifinalist in this category.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Diane Yang of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. The award honors "a chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads in a restaurant, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence." Yang is a 2016 and 2017 semifinalist in this category.

Outstanding Baker: Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis. The award honors "a chef or baker who prepares breads, pastries or desserts in a retail bakery, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence." Gayer is a five-time nominee (across several categories) and this is her third semifinalist appearance in this category.

Outstanding Service: 112 Eatery in Minneapolis. The restaurant is a first-time semifinalist in this category. The award honors "a restaurant in operation for five or more years that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service."

For the complete list of semifinalists, go here.

Thursday'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). The top five vote-getters in each category ascend to the nominee level (that's Beard-speak for "finalist"). This year's nominees will be announced on March 14 at a breakfast in Philadelphia (follow along that morning on the foundation's Twitter feed).

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. (All winners receive a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation insignia. There are no cash prizes).

The awards were established in 1990. This year's event is scheduled for May 7 at Chicago's Civic Opera House. Nominees (there are no semifinalists) in the foundation's cookbook, media and design awards will also be announced on March 14. Winners in the cookbook and media categories will be announced at a dinner in New York City on April 27, and design winners will be announced in Chicago on May 7.

Congratulations to all the semifinalists.