It turns out the third time was not the charm for Arizona's only James Beard Award finalist this year. The annual culinary awards were held Monday night at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Much to the disappointment of many Arizonans, chef Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek, Bink's Midtown, and Bink's Scottsdale did not win Best Chef: Southwest, an award for which he has been named a finalist the last three years.
This year, Arizona had six semifinalists -- three in the Best Chef: Southwest category, one for Best New Restaurant, one for Outstanding Restaurateur, and one for Outstanding Restaurant. Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe and Charleen Badman joined Binkley in the nominations for the regional award, while chef Gio Osso's Virtu got the nod for the highly competitive Best New Restaurant Award. Sam Fox won the Outstanding Restauranteur nomination and Chris Bianco's Pizzeria Bianco made the Outstanding Restaurant list. Restaurants must have been open for at least 10 years to quality for that award.
Binkley was the only nominee to move on to the final round. The chef, known for his molecular gastronomy, is widely accepted as the best chef in the city and state.
Interestingly, chef Christopher Gross said that the Best New Chef list tends to be a good indicator of those who stand to win James Beard awards during the James Beard Award Winner panel at the Check, Please! Arizona Festival earlier this year.
Nine Arizona chefs have won the Best Chef: Southwest award in the past. Those chefs include: Nobuo Fukuda, Sea Saw, in 2007; Bradford Thompson, Mary Elaine's, in 2006; Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, in 2003; Robert McGrath, Roaring Fork, in 2001; Janos Wilder, Janos, in 2000; RoxSand Scocos, RoxSand's, in 1999; Alex Stratta, Mary Elaine's, in 1998; Christopher Gross, Christopher's, in 1995; and Vincent Guerithault, Vincent on Camelback, in 1993.
As disappointing as it is to see Phoenix's own get passed over for a third year, it's worth pointing out that many chefs and restaurants go years without taking home a medal despite annual nominations. Binkley is by no means alone.
Winners are chosen by a committee of restaurant critics, magazine editors, food journalists, and cookbook writers across the country and many, including the very-vocal Anthony Bourdain, have criticized the awards for being an elitist popularity contest that overlooks minorities and women.
And, apparently, Kevin Binkley. Better luck next year, chef.