Nine Maine restaurants, chefs and brewmasters are among this year’s semifinalists for James Beard Awards, considered the most prestigious in the American food world.
Maine’s 2016 semifinalists cover seven categories – there are 21 restaurant and chef categories in all – including Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Restaurant. The group was selected from more than 20,000 online entries.
The Honey Paw in Portland is a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category, which is given to a restaurant opened in 2015 that “already displays excellence … and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”
Fore Street of Portland received a nod in the Outstanding Restaurant category. It has made the semifinals in this category (which requires that a restaurant be at least 10 years old) seven times, was a semi-finalist last year and a finalist in 2010. In 2004, Fore Street chef Sam Hayward was the first chef from Maine ever to receive a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast.
Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional. Tod has been a semifinalist in this category for the past two years.
Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan in Brunswick is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, a category for chefs age 30 or younger. She was a finalist in the category last year and a semifinalist the year before. Stadler also owns Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland.
The national awards pit Maine food professionals against contenders from around the United States – around 20 semifinalists are named in each category.
Candidates for Best Chef: Northeast face a smaller pool of competitors from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as Maine. This year’s Maine semifinalists are Erin French of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom; Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden; Keiko Suzuki Steinberger of Suzuki’s Sushi Bar in Rockland; and Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor of Eventide Oyster Co., Portland.
Eventide’s Wiley and Taylor were finalists in this category last year. The pair are also partners (with Arlin Smith) in Hugo’s and The Honey Paw.
This is Brian Hill’s seventh nomination for a regional Best Chef award. Asked about his nomination by the Press Herald last year, he said, “It happens to a lot of chefs that they are nominated again and again. I don’t know the process they use. But yeah, we’ve been making the Susan Lucci joke all week.”
The semifinalists in each category will be thinned by an independent, volunteer panel of judges – all in the food world – to five finalists, which will be announced on March 15. Finalists in the Book, Broadcast Media and Journalism Award categories will also be announced on March 15.
The awards will be given out on May 2 at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, where the event was held last year. Before that, the “Oscars of the food world,” as they are often called, had never been held outside New York City, where the James Beard Foundation is based.