Tuesday, July 23, 2024

These Are the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award Winners, 2024

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A D.C. chef who revitalized a 40-year-old haunt by reimagining the Japanese comfort food that she grew up on.

A Senegal-born chef highlighting the culinary traditions of West Africa through fine dining in New Orleans.

A city with a population just barely exceeding 68,000 welcoming a newfound national spotlight for its baking prowess.

First-generation chefs, small towns often overlooked by mainstream awards, and foodways long underrepresented in America headlined this year’s James Beard Awards, which took place at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

“My only hope as I stand here today is that we can continue to do the right thing,” said chef Gregory Gourdet as he accepted the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific for his dazzling Haitian restaurant Kann in Portland, Oregon. “We can continue to see diversity and inclusion and female-led teams as things that are extremely effective. These are not catchwords. They’re systems that work.”

Dakar Nola, a Senegalese tasting menu restaurant in New Orleans, won the title of best new restaurant—the most coveted award of the night—beating out stiff competition from restaurants including Barbs-B-Q, a rising barbecue star in Lockhart, Texas, and Oro by Nixta, a Minneapolis restaurant putting a spotlight on heirloom corn. Dakar Nola was among Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants of 2023.

Dakar Nola’s chef-owner Serigne Mbaye took the stage and embraced Gourdet—who was presenting—and noted that early in his career, while working in some of America’s top French kitchens, he was guided by a central belief: “I always knew that Africa has something to say. That kept me going.”

Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants of 2023 were well-represented across the board: Valerie Chang of Miami’s Maty’s was recognized as this year’s best Southern chef, and Lord Maynard Llera of Los Angeles Filipino restaurant Kuya Lord won for California.

The foundation has spent the last several years undergoing change after facing calls for transparency and increased diversity among its internal ranks and among the pool of award winners. An internal audit that the organization undertook after canceling the awards in 2020 and 2021 recommended, among other measures, a new vetting and disciplinary process.

In 2023, some chefs who were subsequently disqualified from contention on those grounds said that the proceedings lacked transparency and left little room for their defense. This year’s awards were surrounded by considerably less drama, and the foundation returned to Chicago with typical fanfare and a sold-out event.

Among regionally recognized best chef categories, David Strandridge of The Shipwright’s Daughter won for the Northeast, where he’s innovating on New England seafood in Mystic, Connecticut; Charlie Mitchell of Brooklyn’s 20-seat fine dining restaurant Clover Hill took home the Best Chef: New York State award; and for the Midwest, Christina Nguyen of the Vietnamese street food-inspired restaurant Hai Hai in Minneapolis.

Michael Rafidi of D.C., who was awarded Outstanding Chef, paid homage to his Palestinian family and community in a succinct speech: “This award is dedicated to Palestine and all the Palestinian people here and all over the world.”

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