Fifteen Twin Cities chefs, bakers and restaurants have been named semifinalists in the 2017 James Beard Foundation awards.

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

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

Bob Gerken, Mike Brown and James Winberg of Travail Kitchen & Amusements, Robbinsdale. The Travailians were 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 semifinalists.

Steven Brown of Tilia, Minneapolis. Brown was a 2012, 2013 and 2014 semifinalist.

Jim Christiansen of Heyday, Minneapolis. Christiansen was a 2015 and 2016 semifinalist.

Jorge Guzman of Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis. Guzman was a 2016 semifinalist.

Thomas Boemer of Corner Table, Minneapolis. Boemer was a 2016 semifinalist.

Erick Harcey of Upton 43, Minneapolis. Harcey is a first-time semifinalist.

Ann Kim of Young Joni, Minneapolis. Kim is a first-time semifinalist.

Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack Bay City, Bay City, Wis. Carlson is a first-time semifinalist.

The Beard's Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The award -- it's one of the Beard's 10 regional chef honors -- goes to chefs in any kind of dining establishment "who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions."

Four Minneapolis chefs are previous Best Chef: Midwest winners: Tim McKee of the former La Belle Vie in 2009, Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in 2010, Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery in 2011 and Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer in 2016.

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

Best New Restaurant: Esker Grove, 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, 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 first-time semifinalist in this category.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Diane Yang of Spoon and Stable, 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 was a 2016 semifinalist.

Outstanding Baker: Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart, 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, and this is her second semifinalist appearance in this category.

Outstanding Bar Program: Marvel Bar, Minneapolis. The award honors "a restaurant or bar that demonstrates excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service." Marvel Bar is a 2013 and 2014 semifinalist.

For the complete list of semifinalists, go here.

Wednesday's semifinalist announcement is the initial installment of a multi-step process.

The semifinalist ballot goes out to a pool of 500-plus voters, including critics, writers, editors, culinary educators and past chef and restaurant award winners. (Releasing the semifinalist roster to the public is a relatively recent phenomenon; until 2008, the list was a not-so-closely-guarded secret.)

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 15 at an event in Los Angeles (follow along that morning on the foundation's Twitter feed or on Facebook Live). 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 of voting is awarded the coveted Beard medallion at the foundation's annual gala awards ceremony. (All winners receive a certificate and a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation insignia. There are no cash prizes).

This year's event is being held on May 1 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 15, and winners in those categories will be announced at a dinner in New York City on April 25.

Congratulations to all the semifinalists.