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Austin chefs dominate list of prestigious James Beard Award finalists

Austin chefs dominate list of prestigious James Beard Award finalists

Bryce Gilmore Barley Swine
Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine was one of three Austin chefs shut out of the 2019 James Beard Awards. Photo by Mel Cole
Michael Fojtasek Olamaie
After making it to the finalist list two years in a row, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie still has no medal. Photo by Robert J. Lerma
Chef Kevin Fink Austin Emmer & Rye landscape headshot 2016
Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye was a finalist for Best Chef: Southwest for the first time in 2019. Photo by Hayden Spears
Bryce Gilmore Barley Swine
Michael Fojtasek Olamaie
Chef Kevin Fink Austin Emmer & Rye landscape headshot 2016

No television reality competition has suspense like this. The eight Austin semifinalists for the annual James Beard Awards have had to wait an excruciating month to find out it they made it to the next round. On March 27, three Austinites did just that during JBF's official announcement, held at Hugo’s in Houston.

Austin dominated the list for Best Chef: Southwest with Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine all making the cut. Steve McHugh of San Antonio’s Cured also was named a finalist for the fourth consecutive time, joined by Charleen Badman of Scottsdale, Arizona’s FnB.

The rest of Texas did not fare as well as Austin and San Antonio. Although Dallas had six spots on the semifinalist list and Houston nabbed an impressive 11, none ended up on the short list.

It also marked the end for several local semifinalists — at least in 2019 — including first-time semifinalists Maribel Rivero of Yuyo and Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo, the first two Austin women to be included in that category, and Suerte, which was nominated for Best New Restaurant.

Laura Sawicki, who has multiple Best Pastry Chef nods, did not make it to the finalist list, nor did Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional.

Only three Austin chefs have won the final James Beard Award. Tyson Cole was the first to bring a Best Chef: Southwest nod home in 2011 for his work at Uchi, as did Paul Qui for Uchiko in 2012 and a surprise win by Aaron Franklin in 2015.

But the odds are good that Austin will once again snatch the prestigious trophy. The winners will be announced at a star-studded galas held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 6. The full list of finalists can be seen here.