Three Maine chefs and one brewmaster were named finalists Tuesday for the 2016 James Beard Awards, the American food world’s most prestigious honors.

Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden will compete with Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland in the Best Chef: Northeast category. Two chefs from the Boston area and one from upstate New York were also named in that category, which includes Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Hill was on his way to Boston when he got the news he made the cut.

“This is cool!” he said, the smile on his face coming through in his voice.

Hill has been on the James Beard semifinalist list six years in a row without making it to the final round. Not that there was anything wrong with that. “It has always been nice to be recognized,” he said. “Especially at this time of year, when there is no money in the bank at all to pay people. It is such a bright spot.”

But he had lowered his expectations to the point where he had started to worry that some year soon he wouldn’t make the semifinalist list.


His voice was hoarse from his other reason to be excited: His old band the Heretix – music was his primary occupation before becoming a chef – is opening for the Dropkick Murphys at the House of Blues Boston on Friday night, and he’s been practicing. “I am being an unretired rock star,” he said.

Wiley and Taylor were finalists last year and Hill considers himself in stellar company. “Andrew is a wizard,” he said.

Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland is also a first-time nominee for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional, after making it into the semifinalist round for the last two years.

Nine Maine restaurants, chefs and brewmasters had been named semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, which are comparable to the Oscars of the food world.

That’s not atypical; Maine has a impressive history with the James Beard Awards. In 2004, Sam Hayward of Fore Street was the first chef from Maine to win for Best Chef: Northeast. Since then, Fore Street has made the semifinalist list for Outstanding Restaurant a total of seven times, including this year.

The winners will be announced at an award ceremony May 2 at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. Hill said he’ll definitely be there; he’s cooked for the event and said, “I know what it is like there” (i.e., not to be missed).


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