This morning, the James Beard Foundation released its list of 2017 James Beard Award semifinalists, which are widely regarded as the most coveted culinary awards in the U.S.
The list includes some familiar names in Arizona food and drink — as well as one notable omission.
Here they are:
Outstanding Wine Program
Sam Fox, Fox Restaurant Concepts (the Arrogant Butcher, Culinary Dropout, Olive & Ivy, and others)
Best Chef: Southwest
Charleen Badman, FnB, Scottsdale
Silvana Salcido Esparza, Barrio Urbano
Jeff Smedstad, Elote Cafe, Sedona
This is the fifth time that Silvana Salcido Esparza has made the list for the Best Chef: Southwest award, which recognizes "chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions."
Charleen Badman of FnB restaurant in Scottsdale earned her fourth semifinal nomination this year.
Jeff Smedstad, a Chandler native who previously cooked at Los Sombreros in Scottsdale, has operated the acclaimed Elote Cafe in Sedona for 10 years. The restaurant specializes in traditional Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, inspired by Smedstad's extensive travels through Mexico. This is Smedstad's first Beard nomination.
Kevin Binkley, who has been nominated for Best Chef for his work at Binkley's restaurant in Cave Creek for the past several years, did not make the list this year.
Chris Bianco's flagship restaurant, Pizzeria Bianco, has been nominated several times for Outstanding Restaurant. Another familiar Arizona name is Sam Fox, who has been nominated for "Outstanding Restaurateur." The award recognizes "a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship." Fox has been named a semifinalist in the category every year since 2008.
FnB, which just debuted a newly renovated bar overseen by Pavle Millic, the restaurant's front-of-house beverage expert, has been nominated for Outstanding Wine Program, which recognizes "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."
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The list of semifinalists is often referred to as the "long list," which is compiled after the foundation's Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee (a group composed of critics, writers, and editors) makes selections from a list of names gathered during an online open call.
This list will be narrowed down to a much shorter selection of award finalists that will be announced on Wednesday, March 15, in Los Angeles. Those nominees will be revealed in real time on Facebook Live and Twitter.
Winners will be announced at the 2017 James Beard Awards Gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 1.
To see the complete list of James Beard Award semifinalists for 2017, visit the James Beard Foundation website.