James Beard Finalists revealed

2 Austin chefs score prestigious James Beard Award nominations

2 Austin chefs score prestigious James Beard Award nominations

hestia emmer and rye chef kevin fink
Kevin Fink has scored a James Beard nomination. Photo by Chelsea Francis

Austin is well-represented among this year’s finalists for the James Beard Awards. Considered the Oscars of the culinary world, the Beard Awards recognize chefs, restaurants, and media in dozens of categories. 

Overall, the city’s bars and restaurants turned seven semifinalist nominations into two finalists. They are:

  • Emmer & Rye's Kevin Fink for Best Chef: Texas
  • Olamaie's Michael Fojtasek for Best Chef: Texas

For the first time, the foundation has designated Texas as its own region in the restaurant and chef awards. In addition to the chefs listed above, this year’s finalists also include:

  • Pondicheri chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani for Best Chef: Texas in Houston
  • Crawfish & Noodles chef-owner Trong Nguyen for Best Chef: Texas in Houston
  • Anvil Bar & Refuge for Outstanding Bar Program in Houston
  • Cured chef Steve McHugh for Best Chef: Texas in San Antonio

The Beard Awards finalist announcements come at a time of unprecedented challenges for America’s restaurants. Initially, May 4 should have been the day the foundation revealed the winners of this year’s awards, but it delayed the finalist announcement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While Texas’ dining rooms have been allowed to reopen in a limited way, most dining rooms across the country remain closed. Some may never reopen. Celebrity chefs such as Tom Colicchio and David Chang — both multiple Beard Award winners — have been among those leading the call for government intervention to provide financial assistance to allow restaurants to survive.

In an essay, Beard foundation chief strategy officer Mitchell Davis explained why the organization decided to move forward with Monday’s announcement:

We consulted with chefs, restaurateurs, and industry professionals from across the country to get their perspective on what the industry wanted and needed right now.

It was clear that those whose work in 2019 led them to be selected as a semifinalist—and perhaps ultimately a nominee or a winner—deserved the recognition they earned. Those we consulted felt the Awards could also offer a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time.

The foundation’s media award will be announced online on May 27. The restaurant and chef winners will be awarded in Chicago on September 25.