Petit Trois, Maude, and Alimento’s Zach Pollack Among 2015 James Beard Semi-Finalists

No shockers, but plenty of nods with this year’s nominees—we explain the nitty gritty
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It’s that time of year again, when influential food folks take shelter from New York’s frigid temps inside the James Beard House and tip their hat to the country’s best culinary professionals. The 2015 James Beard Foundation Award restaurant and chef semi-finalists were announced this morning, and Los Angeles scored what seems like its average number of nods, including a few high-profile ones like Maude and Petit Trois for Best New Restaurant.

This, then, brings us to the moment when most Angelenos launch into our annual rant about the Beard Foundation’s apparent East Coast bias, and its irrelevancy in a city where the best food comes from the streets. Are there more restaurants nominated in New York and San Francisco? You bet. Are there great restaurants and chefs from L.A. we think deserved recognition as well? Surely. But it’s not quite that simple. The rules for qualification in each category are specific and eliminate many of what most of us think of as our top dogs. Does that make up for the oversights? Not entirely, but it does help to explain away any notions of a deep, dark, Beard House conspiracy.

Slow your roll, L.A. Here are the categories—with definitions—and our nominees in each.

Best New Restaurant
Description:A restaurant opened in the calendar year before the award will be given that already displays excellence in food, beverage, and service, and that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”
L.A. Nominees: Petit Trois, Maude
These two seem about right to us, considering all the spots that have opened within the calendar year. Though throwing something like Night + Market Song in the mix would have made things interesting.

Outstanding Baker
Description:A chef or baker who prepares breads, pastries or desserts in a retail bakery, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence. Must have been a baker or pastry chef for at least five years.”
L.A. Nominees: None
This is a brand new category. We’re disappointed not to see any L.A. entries here, but also not surprised. Most of our finest bakeries—Proof, Bread Lounge—are less than five years old. I expect to see more L.A. nominees here in coming years.

Outstanding Bar Program
Definition:A restaurant or bar that demonstrates excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service.”
L.A. Nominees: The Varnish 
This one astonishes us. Sure, the Varnish is a good bar, but how is it the only one that makes the list year after year, especially in one category that doesn’t have a time-open specification? When was the last time you went to the Varnish, honestly? And have you had one of Christiaan Rollich’s drinks at Lucques or A.O.C. lately? What about some of the things going on at Scopa? Here, the Beard House indeed looks out-of-touch.

Outstanding Chef
Definition:A working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Eligible candidates must have been working as a chef for the past five years.”
L.A. Nominees: Suzanne Goin for Lucques
This is the category I find myself most often explaining to the peeved public. Five years is a long time in L.A. restaurant history. And think about chefs locally who are an inspiration to professionals nationwide. Our food scene is young and we expect to see more names here as time goes on. Plus, Suzanne has flown the flag of L.A. cuisine with pride for a decade, now. We’re happy to see her get recognized—though this isn’t her first time. Let’s see if she can take home the win. Andy Ricker was also nominated for Pok Pok, which just arrived in L.A.’s Chinatown, so you can almost consider that a point for us, too. (This is also likely the first time that the category features two chefs who’ve slapped each other before kissing on camera.)

Outstanding Pastry Chef
Definition:A chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads in a restaurant, and who serves as a national standard bearer of excellence.  Must have been a pastry chef or baker for the past five years.”
L.A. Nominees: Margarita Manzke, for République, Dahlia Narvaez for Osteria Mozza
Hooray for Margarita Manzke! This first-time nomination is truly deserved. And Dahlia Narvaez has been nominated three times already and it’d be lovely to see her win, finally. Two words: Butterscotch Budino. You may be sick of it, but she still does it best.

Outstanding Restaurant
Definition: A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service. Eligible restaurants must have been in operation 10 or more consecutive years. 
L.A. Nominees: Zip
Outrage, you say? Think about the restaurants you adore and how many of them were here 10 years ago. Spago already won in 1994.

Outstanding Restaurateur
Definition:A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years. Candidates must not have won a James Beard Foundation chef award in the past five years.”
L.A. Nominees: Zilch.
Again, for the same reason as above this should come as no surprise. If we could keep a place open more than a few years we might stand a chance. Consider this motivation to return to some of your established favorites to keep them afloat.

Outstanding Service
Definition:A restaurant in operation five or more years that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service.
L.A. Nominees: Lucques, Providence
Face it, we’re just not a service town. Lucques and Providence seem like the right choices to rep us locally in this category—I could have seen Mélisse here too, I suppose. When they give awards for best curbside assortment of salsas, L.A. will be on top. But for now let’s confidently give this one to the other cities.

Outsanding Wine Program
Definition: “A restaurant in operation five or more years that serves as a standard bearer for excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine.” 
L.A. Nominees: A.O.C., Spago
I’ll chalk this one up to the five-year requirement. Our wine scene has become infinitely more exciting lately, but that’ll take some time to be reflected in the Beard nominations. See you in 2019, République!

Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
Definition:A beer, wine or spirits professional who has made a significant national impact on the restaurant industry.”
L.A. Nominees: None
This makes sense. California in general has a lousy distilling culture, our beer scene is really just getting started, and we barely make wine at all (though we drink plenty of it—wocka wocka!)

Rising Star Chef
Definition: “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.”
L.A. Nominees: Zach Pollack of Alimento, Ari Taymor of Alma
We’re proud of our youngsters. Two nominees in this category is pretty great considering San Francisco only has one and New York scored just three. Ari was nominated last year, so the second nod is appreciated. And we couldn’t be happier for Zach Pollack, who should win for that Pig in a Blanket sandwich alone.

Best Chef West
Definition: “Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Eligible candidates may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been working as a chef for at least five years with the three most recent years spent in the region.”
L.A. Nominees: Josef Centeno for Orsa & Winston, Michael Cimarusti for Providence, Chad Colby for Chi Spacca, Jeremy “Lucky Peach” Fox for Rustic Canyon, Ludo Lefebvre for Trois Mec, and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo for Animal.
This is a pretty good lot, don’t you think? Keep in mind the five-year requirement, after all. Sure, we received five nominations while San Francisco got eight, but we still like those odds.

Now, these are only the semifinalists. We’ll find out how many of our hometown heroes make the finals on March 24, and winners will be decided on May 4 at a big fancy party taking place for the first time in Chicago.

You can see the full list of semifinalists here. Best of luck to all.

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