April 17, 2024

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9 James Beard Award Finalists Have Been Named in the D.C. Region, and Most Nod Their Heads Within a Decade

The James Beard Foundation has selected nine restaurants and chefs from D.C. and Maryland as finalists for its prestigious culinary awards — the largest number of finalists from the region to be honored in more than a decade.

Notably, two members of DC's Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit are finalists: Kevin Tien for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Susan Bai for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker.

The Beard Awards are among the highest national awards that can be received by restaurateurs, chefs and restaurants, honoring excellence in cuisine, service, hospitality and business. The finalists were announced Wednesday morning at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in D.C. in what turned out to be a special celebratory event for locals. The number of finalists from the region was greater than many other prestigious dining destinations, such as San Francisco, Seattle, or Manhattan and Brooklyn combined.

Other area nominees for Best Chef are Tony Conti of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown, Maryland, and Harley Pitt of Bas Rouge in Easton, Maryland. Moon Rabbit's Tian was nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2018 and was a semi-finalist for Best Chef in 2019. The restaurant made national headlines for closing its Wharf location in May 2023 and reopening near Gallery Place in January.

Bai, Moon Rabbit's pastry chef, says she was shocked to learn of her nomination but also thrilled and hoping for the best at the final awards ceremony. Which will be held in Chicago on June 8. “It's very hard work – not just from me but from my colleagues. We gave it everything we had together, and that's what led us down this path.” At the party. “I think my desserts are outside the box – I incorporate a lot of delicious elements. It's unique, and I think it's something everyone would want to try.”

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Michael Rafidi, of the Navy Yard's acclaimed Middle Eastern restaurant Albi, has been named a finalist for the nationwide Outstanding Chef Award. Rafidi, who is also behind Georgetown's Yellow Cafe and Navy Yard, is a finalist in the Mid-Atlantic Region Best Chef category in 2023. (Oyster Oyster's Rob Rubba won Outstanding Chef of the Year in 2023, so if Rafidi returns to… Home, the prize, which will be consecutive victories for the region's chefs.)

Chef Masako Morishita, of Japanese cuisine restaurant Perry's in Adams Morgan, received a nomination in the Emerging Chef category, which honors a chef who the Beard Foundation deems “most likely to make a significant impact in the years to come.” Morishita told The Post's food critic Tom Sietsema that she prefers adventure in her cooking, a trait she learned from her grandmother. Sietsma finds that her dishes, including the heart-shaped okonomiyaki, have infused life into Perry's, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2024.

The awards also recognized excellence in local spirits: Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan received a finalist nomination for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverage Program, and Clavel Mezcaleria in Baltimore received a nomination for Outstanding Bar. Both Clavel Mezcaleria and Tail Up Goat have been nominated multiple times in different categories, although this is Tail Up Goat's first nomination for spirits, having previously been nominated for the work of its chefs. Owner and beverage director Bill Jensen attributes this year's nomination to the restaurant's commitment to finding what he calls “underappreciated” wines.

“We've been open for eight years, and our wine program has evolved dramatically in that time,” Jensen said. “[What sets us apart is] Our desire to take a chance on lesser-known corners of the wine world and our passion for wine as an integral part of a life well lived. I'm especially proud of our wine pairings. There are a lot of stool pairings out there from bartenders, but it's one of the things we're most proud of. I really feel like doing wine or non-alcoholic beverage pairings that add to the experience immeasurably.

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On the business side of the table, Hollis Wells Silverman of Eastern Point Collective received a nomination for the Outstanding Restaurateur Award, which honors excellence in restaurant ownership and community building. Eastern Point Collective restaurants include Duck & the Peach, La Collina, Wells Cocktail Bar in Eastern Market, and Méli in Adams Morgan.

Lindsay Ovkasik and Edward Lee of the Lee Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry, were also honored with the 2024 Humanitarian Award. Although his original restaurants are located in Louisville, Lee is the culinary director of Succotash in Penn Quarter and National Harbor Lee's initiative will open a non-profit restaurant called M. Francis in the Union Market area later this year.

Fritz Hahn contributed to this report.