February 19, 2010

Maine chefs nominated for James Beard Awards

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Krista Desjarlais came into Bresca, her popular restaurant on Portland’s Middle Street, as usual today and got right down to work. Then her sous chef came in and said maybe she should take a moment away from prepping for tonight’s dinner and log onto the Internet.

Why? The James Beard Foundation in New York City had named Desjarlais a semi-finalist for Best Chef: Northeast, one of the most prestigious awards in the restaurant industry.

Desjarlais, who is expecting a baby, admits she is having a really good year.

“I just went online and looked not even an hour ago, and almost had the baby right there,” she said, still a little breathless with the news. “It’s incredibly cool, and a total surprise.”

The James Beard Awards have been called the Oscars of the food world. Every year 200 chefs and restaurants – 20 in 10 categories – around the country are named semi-finalists through online nominations. Then 400 judges whittle the list down to five finalists per category. Those finalists will be announced March 22.

Maine is well represented in the semi-finals. In addition to Desjarlais, other Maine nominees are Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden; Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows in Ogunquit; and Penelle Chase, Phoebe Chase, Megan Chase and Ted Lafage of Chase’s Daily in Belfast.

Sam Hayward is a semi-finalist in the “Outstanding Chef” category, and his Portland restaurant, Fore Street, is nominated for “Outstanding Restaurant.” In those categories, Hayward will be competing against chefs from all across the country.

The winners will be announced May 3 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

Desjarlais, who has spent almost 30 years working in the restaurant industry, hopes that if she makes the next cut, she won’t have to choose between the two biggest thrills of her life.

Her daughter is due May 11.

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