Alison Pray, co-owner of Standard Baking Co. in Portland, said she was “stunned” to be named a finalist for a James Beard Award Wednesday in the Outstanding Baker category.

“To be recognized by people you respect so much in your industry is above and beyond what you can imagine,” she said in a phone interview from Palm Springs, Calif., where she was enjoying a final day of vacation with her husband and bakery co-owner, Matt James.

“It really gives you a sense that you’ve done things right, that you’ve achieved what you set out to do – to make people happy,” she said.

Pray was a semifinalist last year for the award, one of the most coveted in the restaurant industry. Winners will be announced May 7.

Maine otherwise struck out in this year’s major categories, despite having 11 semifinalists, including five chefs up for the Best Chef: Northeast award. Boston chefs were heavily favored in that category this year, with four out of five finalists coming from restaurants in that city; the fifth is from Providence.

An independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges across the country – including restaurant critics, food editors and past winners – chose the finalists in each category.


Pray, whose croissants, baguettes and morning buns have been favorites among Portlanders for years, will be competing against one of her own favorite bakeries, Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge, Mass. Other finalists are Black Seed Bagels in Manhattan, Bien Cuit in Brooklyn, B. Patisserie in San Francisco, and Publican Quality Bread in Chicago.  Five nominees are standard. When there are six, it reflects a tie in voting.

Allison Pray

Pray had her phone on mute when the announcement was made because it was early morning in California. She heard the news at about 8 a.m. California time, when Judy Paolini, a Standard Baking customer who also happened to be in Palm Springs, texted her.

“Then I started looking at my phone and seeing that we’d gotten phone calls and texts,” she said. The bakery called her just after she received a text with the staff’s congratulations.

Pray said she plans to attend the May 7 ceremony in Chicago and hopes to take as many of her staff with her as she can.

“I don’t want to leave anybody out,” she said, “so we have to figure out what we can do because it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’m sure.”

Brandon Lee, a manager at Standard Baking, said the staff is as excited about the finalist nomination as the semifinalist ones, “the pastry department especially, because they work most closely with her, and they always step up their game and try to do things that are a little more interesting.”


The bakery was a little quiet Wednesday morning because of the storm, he said, but customers have been offering their congratulations ever since Pray was named a semifinalist in February.

The only other Mainer to be recognized this year was Erin French, whose cookbook “The Lost Kitchen” was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the American cooking category.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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