Timing is everything: the Academy Awards are on Sunday, and today the James Beard Foundation announced restaurant and chef semifinalists for its 2013 awards, which are often shorthanded to the "Oscars of the food world."

Minnesota is represented in nine categories.  Ten Twin Cities chefs from eight restaurants are recognized in a single category, Best Chef: Midwest. The award 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).

Semifinalists in Best Chef: Midwest include:

Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg of Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Robbinsdale

Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis

Mike DeCamp of La Belle Vie in Minneapolis

Doug Flicker of Piccolo in Minneapolis

Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis

Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis

Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul

Sameh Wadi of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge in Minneapolis

Trivia time. Last year’s Best Chef: Midwest winner was Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis.

Minneapolis chefs Isaac Becker (112 Eatery), Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma) and Tim McKee (La Belle Vie) won in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. Russo was a nominee in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Gayer was also a previous nominee, in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category, in 2002 (when she was pastry chef at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago) and 2010.

National categories are peppered with Minnesota names, including:



Outstanding Restaurant: Lucia's in Minneapolis (pictured, above). The award honors "A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 10 or more consecutive years."




Outstanding Chef: Tim McKee of La Belle Vie 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. Candidates must have been working as chefs for at least the past five years."



Outstanding Pastry Chef: Steve Horton of Rustica in Minneapolis. The award honors "A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence. Candidates must have been pastry chefs or bakers for at least the past five years."



Rising Star Chef of the Year: Jamie Malone of Sea Change in Minneapolis. The award honors "A chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come."



Outstanding Service: Sapor Café and Bar in Minneapolis. The award honors "A restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least the past five years."



Outstanding Bar Program: Marvel Bar in Minneapolis. The award recognizes a restaurant or bar "That demonstrates excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service."



Outstanding Restaurateur: Kim Bartmann of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub, Pat’s Tap and Bread & Pickle, all in Minneapolis. The award honors "A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and ownership. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years."

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional: Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz in Edina. The award honors “A winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide. Candidates must have been in the profession for at least five years.”

Find the complete list of semifinalists here.

The Beards are frequently compared to the Academy Awards, but here’s a key procedural difference: the Oscars follow a two-step nominee/winner process, and the Beard's restaurant and chef categories are a three-step system, involving semifinalists, nominees and winners.

In this first round of judging, the foundation announces 20 semifinalists in 20 categories. Judges (hundreds of critics, journalists, food professionals and past winners) vote for up to five names in each category. Here's where the syntax gets a bit confusing: when the top five vote-getters among the semifinalists advance to the finalists stage, they are called "nominees," and not "finalists."

There’s a second round of voting, and the top vote-getter among the five nominees is declared the winner at the foundation's annual gala.

Restaurant and chef nominees will be announced on March 18 (track the announcement on the Beard's Twitter feed) from Charleston, S.C., along with nominees in the foundation's cookbook, design and journalism categories.

Winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on May 6 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City (Full disclosure: I serve on a James Beard Foundation committee).

The Beard Foundation has already announced that its 2013 Humanitarian of the Year award will go to chef and TV personality Emeril Lagasse and its Lifetime Achievement award will go to San Francisco chef and restaurateur Cecilia Chiang.

Congratulations to all the semifinalists. And now let the speculating begin: Which semifinalists will be named nominees? Who will win the award in May? Who’s missing from the semifinalists list?

Share your thoughts in the comments section.