For the third consecutive year, Lenny Russo is heading to the James Beard Foundation awards.

The chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul is the sole Minnesota chef in the list of 2012 nominees in what is widely considered the "Oscars of the food world." The nominees were announced today at an event in Las Vegas.



Russo (pictured, above) is nominated in the Best Chef: Midwest category. The award is one of 10 regional chef awards, which 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 Twin Cities has had a lock the Best Chef: Midwest award for the past three years. Tim McKee of La Belle Vie took the prize in 2009 -- the first Minnesota chef to win the award, now in its 25th year. Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma was the winner in 2010 and Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery was awarded the medallion in 2011.

Russo's fellow nominees are Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo. (his sixth consecutive nomination), Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee (a 2011 nominee), Tory Miller of L'Etoile in Madison, Wis. (another 2011 nominee) and Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis (a 2010 nominee). 

Minnesotans were recognized in other awards categories. Andrew Zimmern of "Bizarre Foods" (pictured, right) on the Travel Channel was nominated in the Television Program: On Location category. And Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, host and producer of American Public Media's "The Splendid Table," respectively, were nominated in the General Cooking category for their cookbook, "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends."

Congratulations to the nominees; the full list can be found here (Full disclosure: I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee). Winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on May 4 and May 7 in New York City.