And the Nominees Are . . . : In the movie business, it's the Oscar. In the recording industry, it's the Grammy. In the restaurant world, it's the James Beard Awards.
Right now, the firm of Deloitte & Touche is tabulating results from the first round of balloting. A few weeks ago, judges were sent 15 to 20 names in each of 17 categories. The candidates on this list were selected by the Beard Foundation's Award Committee, based on recommendations by food writers, restaurant reviewers (including me) and industry professionals.
The top five vote-getters in each category will appear on the final ballot. Just about every local who made it on to last year's preliminary list is back again this year.
No local chef is nominated for the Outstanding Chef Award. One restaurant cracks the Outstanding Restaurant list--Vincent on Camelback, again. Not too many local spots could qualify for this category, because it requires that the restaurant be at least 10 years old.
Once again, no local young lion made it on to the Rising Star Chef of the Year list, which is limited to chefs under age 30. But one of our own is among the nominees for Outstanding Pastry Chef. He's Richard Ruskell, who oversees that department at the Phoenician.
The Best New Restaurant list contains a bit of a shocker. There's one Valley nominee, and it's Roaring Fork. Chef Robert McGrath did marvelous things when he directed Windows on the Green at the Phoenician. But when I ate at Roaring Fork a few months ago, I thought the place was still a work in progress. Yes, there are some great dishes, but it's not yet a great restaurant. I'd be flabbergasted if it made the final cut.
Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician made it on to the Outstanding Service Award list. So did Janos, in Tucson. No surprise there. The crews at each place are extraordinarily well-trained. And it's no surprise that Mary Elaine's is also on the Outstanding Wine Service list.
The category that generates most local interest, Best Chef, Southwest, includes eight familiar Arizona names among the 20 candidates: Erasmo Kamnitzer (Razz's); Eddie Matney (Eddie's Grill); Robert McGrath (Roaring Fork); Donna Nordin (Cafe Terra Cotta, Tucson/Scottsdale); RoxSand Scocos (RoxSand); Alessandro Stratta (Mary Elaine's); Janos Wilder (Janos, Tucson); Chuck Wiley (The Boulders). All were on the ballot last year, too.
Some names that could have been on this list: Chryssa Kaufman (Rancho Pinot Grill); Michael DeMaria (Michael's at the Citadel); Reed Groban (Scottsdale Princess); Moises Treves (Such Is Life); and Michael Hoobler (T. Cook's at the Royal Palms).
Who am I voting for? I get to choose up to five names. Two that are sure to make my ballot are RoxSand and Janos. I've thought for years that RoxSand's "transcontinental" fare is among the most interesting food in town. And thinking about Janos Wilder's inspired Southwestern dishes is about the only thing that makes the two-hour drive to Tucson bearable.
The James Beard winners will be announced on May 4.
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