Nine chefs, restaurants and other luminaries of the Maine food world were named semifinalists for James Beard Foundation awards Wednesday.

Most of those that were tapped for the awards, the most prestigious in the restaurant industry, have been named semifinalists or finalists in previous years. New to the list this year were Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell, owners of the Palace Diner in Biddeford, who were named semifinalists in the Best Chef: Northeast category. That category consists of 20 semifinalists, including four others from Maine.

Vien Dobui, chef/owner of Cong Tu Bot, a restaurant that serves spicy noodles and snacks in Portland, was named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Northeast category. Staff file photo by Gregory Rec

In addition to Conley and Mitchell, other semifinalists for Best Chef: Northeast are Krista Kern Desjarlais, owner of The Purple House in North Yarmouth, where bagels and baked goods come out of a wood-fired oven; Vien Dobui, chef/owner of Cong Tu Bot, a cozy-but-busy restaurant that serves spicy noodles and snacks on Washington Avenue in Portland; Erin French, chef/owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, where reservations are taken by postcard only; and Keiko Suzuki Steinberger, chef/owner of Suzuki’s Sushi Bar in Rockland, a favorite destination of midcoast sushi fans.

These are the second semifinalist nominations for Dobui, French and Desjarlais, who was a finalist in 2012 for Bresca, the restaurant she once owned in Portland. It’s the fourth nomination for Steinberger.

No Mainers made finalist in the Best Chef category last year.

Alison Pray, co-owner with her husband, Matt James, of Standard Baking Co. in Portland, is once again a semifinalist in the Outstanding Baker category. Last year she was named a finalist, but did not win the award.


Fore Street is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category, which honors restaurants that demonstrate “consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, service, and operations.” Nominees must have been in business 10 or more consecutive years. Sam Hayward, the co-owner of Fore Street, won a Best Chef: Northeast award in 2004, and has been nominated many times in the Outstanding Chef category.

Back Bay Grill, owned by Larry Matthews Jr. and managed by Adrian Stratton, is a two-time semifinalist in the Outstanding Service category.

Alison Pray of Portland’s Standard Baking Co. Courtesy photo/ Sean Alonzo Harris, from “Standard Baking Co. Pastries”

Rob Tod, owner of Allagash Brewing Co., received another semifinalist nomination in the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer category.

The James Beard Foundation holds an online open call for nominations in all 21 categories beginning in mid-October each year. Those entries, along with input from a group of 250 volunteers, are then sent to a nominating committee that determines the semifinalists. The list of more than 400 semifinalists will now be voted on by more than 600 judges from across the country – including restaurant critics, food and wine editors and past winners – to determine the final nominees, about five or six in each category.

Finalists will be announced March 27 in Houston. Winners will be announced at an awards gala in Chicago on May 6.

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

Twitter: Meredith Goad

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