James Beard. If you’re any sort of foodie at all, the name probably rings a few bells. James Beard Awards are, more or less, the Oscars of the food industry. It’s a universal pat on the back for chefs everywhere that means (again, I’m paraphrasing here): “Your recipes are delicious. Make more.” The awards are held on the first weekend in May and honor everyone from chefs to restaurant owners, wine professionals, food journalists, cookbook authors, and restaurant designers, among other food professionals. Some 600 culinary professionals cast votes, and much like other major award shows, there are nominations leading up to the winners (and as such, semi-finalists and finalists that are announced each year before May.)
The awards are named after James Beard, who was a celebrated American cookbook author and master of American cuisine. He mentored a great number of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today, Beard lives on not only though his foundation and the foundation’s awards, but also through twenty books and miscellaneous writings that he left behind.
With May creeping up on us faster than ever (bye, Winter!), some DC talent has recently been named as finalists in this year’s James Beard Awards. Here are some of the folks who made it past the chopping block:
For National Best New Restaurant: Pineapple and Pearls by chef Aaron Silverman
Pineapple and Pearls is an upscale, elegant restaurant that operates with a tasting menu. A 13-course tasting menu, to be more precise. Guests can dine in either the dining room, chef’s counter, or at the bar. In both the chef’s counter and dining room scenarios, the tasting menu includes beverage pairings. The experience costs $250 a person. If you stick to the bar, it will save you $100 a person, but no beverages are included.
Some samplings from tasting menus in the past include items such as Beef TarTare and Caviar, Fennel Absinthe Bonbon, Summer Red Curry and Coconut Rice, Baby Elotes, Roasted Fig Crostata, Mustard Green Agnolotti, and Granny Smith Apple Crostata and “Sundae Bar.” With a menu that rotates every two to three weeks, though, you’re certain to have a highlight that is all your own.
For National Outstanding Baker: Bread Furst’s Mark Furstenberg
Bread Furst is a bustling little bakery with a display case spilling with stuff that that you’ll want – wait no –NEED – to try. They also have breakfast items, lunch, salads, and coffee. According to their website, they are “committed to offering you breads, desserts, and foods with character. Food that is never boring and never bland. Food that we love and are proud to share with all of you.” Rock on.
Some breads that rotate through their offerings include kamut molasses, spelt with toasted corn flour, and chocolate cherry bread. There seems to be no set pastry menu because like any good baker, they are always experimenting, but after a glimpse at their Instagram, we can all rest assured: we’ll take one of everything.
For Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic: Amy Brandwein of Centrolina
Centrolina is an Italian market and restaurant hybrid in DC. Their own description says:
“Authentic, regional Italian cooking and seasonal availability is the inspiration for Chef Amy Brandwein’s menu at Centrolina. Guests, with views of fresh market produce, an open kitchen and terracotta-clad wood oven, are immersed in the cooking experience as they dine.
The menu features seasonal and frequently rotating dishes that showcase regional food from all over Italy and relies heavily on what is offered in the chef-driven market, whether that’s pinched beef ravioli, spaghetti alla chitarra with chanterelle mushrooms, grilled branzino, or wood-roasted meat and vegetables.”
For Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic: Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint
Bad Saint is a teeny, tiny Filipino restaurant with a big reputation. The food here is known to test diner’s dedication, with a notoriously long wait to even put your name on a waiting list. As one Yelp review puts it “This is not just a restaurant – it’s a journey of patience and sensational food.” The menu here is rotational, making it even more of a mystery. The nomination speaks for itself, though.
For the Lifetime Achievement Award: Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora
Not many can claim the title of “America’s First Certified Organic Restaurant” – but Nora can. Seen as a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, Nora founded the restaurant based on her commitment to “nutritionally wholesome food and a sustainable, health-focused lifestyle based on the premise that you are what you eat, drink, and breathe.”
Highlights from her dinner menu include things like Roasted Butternut Squash and Burrata, Cumin Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Lemon Poppyseed Cake (complete with Mango Compote).