Best of the best

Austin culinary superstars score big on James Beard semifinalist list

Austin culinary superstars score big on James Beard semifinalist list

Laura Sawicki
Laura Sawicki was recognized for her work at Launderette. Courtesy photo

Music fans have the Grammys, movie buffs have the Oscars, but for people who obsess about everything food and drink, there is no greater honor than the James Beard Awards.

On February 15, the organization announced the 2018 class of semifinalists, the first step in the process of winning the award. On March 14, the list will be narrowed down to five finalists per category, with the winners being announced at a lavish gala in Chicago on May 7.

Again this year, several Austinites were on the long list, including a few new names. Austin especially cleaned up in the Best Chef: Southwest category where Emmer & Rye’s Kevin Fink (his first semifinalist acknowledgement), Olamaie’s Michael Fojtasek (a previous semifinalist for Best New Restaurant), and Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore (a multi-time finalist) all received nods.

Laura Sawicki also made the list for Outstanding Pastry Chef, her fourth time to be named a semifinalist and the third time for her work at Launderette (her first in 2013 was for La Condesa).

Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King Brewery made his first appearance on the list as Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional. Japanese smokehouse Kemuri Tatsu-Ya continued its streak of recent accolades by receiving a Best New Restaurant nod, one of only two Texas restaurants to make the cut (the other was Houston’s Xochi).

Texans dominated the Best Chef: Southwest list with nominations for San Antonio’s Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli) and Steve McHugh (Cured); Pearland’s Ronnie Killen (Killen’s Steakhouse); Houston’s Anita Jaisinghani (Pondicheri), Ross Coleman and James Haywood (Kitchen 713), and Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles, and Ryan Pera (Coltivare); Dallas’ Regino Rojas (Revolver Taco Lounge); and Lexington’s Norma Francis “Tootsie” Tomanetz (Snow’s BBQ).

As Texas Monthly notes, the naming of Tomanetz, Nguyen, and Rojas was a surprise. All three helm eateries that are a departure from the upscale restaurants typically named.

The other Texas nominees were all centered in Houston and include Anvil Bar & refuge for Outstanding Bar Program, Jillian Bartolome (Aqui) for Outstanding Pastry Chef, Martha De Leon (Pax Americana) for Rising Star Chef of the Year, and two kudos for Hugo’s: Outstanding Service and owner Tracy Vaught for Outstanding Restaurateur.