This just in: Valley chef Kevin Binkley -- the guy pretty much everyone agrees owns the best restaurant in Arizona -- did not win the 2012 James Beard Best Chef Southwest award this year. Instead, the honors went to Paul Qui, executive chef of Uchiko in Austin, Texas.
Last year, the category tied. Qui's boss, Tyson Cole, split the Best Chef Southwest award for Uchi (which opened in Austin in 2003 with Cole as executive chef and co-owner) with Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.
Word is, Cole wasn't particularly gracious about sharing the riches during his acceptance speech.
So why didn't Binkley win -- or even split -- this year?
Hard to say. Some people think the Beards are a popularity contest, and if that's the case, the winner makes sense: Uchiko (which opened in 2010) and parent restaurant Uchi have certainly been in the limelight lately. There was quite a buzz in 2011 around Uchi: The Cookbook, which Cole co-wrote with Jessica Dupuy. And there's no doubt that Austin -- as a food town -- is on fire.
Sometimes the hottest new chef with the hottest new place wins, but sometimes the Beards are a bit reminiscent of the Oscars, when the star who's paid his or her dues gets the nod for having an excellent track record.
That's why Kevin Binkley deserves this award. Who else does a series of impossibly clever amuse bouche in one evening? Sources better ingredients? Demands a higher standard of excellence from his staff and himself?
Binkley wrote me in a text just minutes before the award: "It's a long shot. Just great to be here." That's the kind of typically positive stuff he always says. But 1995 James Beard Award winner Christopher Gross thought this was Binkley's year. So did John Mariani of Esquire, who predicted Binkley's win May 2.
This guy's been plugging away since 2004. Where's the love?
Get the rest of the scoop on who won -- and lost -- at the official James Beard site.
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