Sur Lie, on Free Street in Portland, is among the Maine semifinalists for 2023 James Beard awards. Photo by Dawson Renaud Film and Photo

The James Beard Foundation has named 11 semifinalists from Maine in an array of categories for its 2023 restaurant and chef awards.

The state’s contenders are concentrated in Portland, but also include a sprinkling of nominations across the state, in such towns as Lisbon Falls, Rockport and Monson. The New York-based nonprofit foundation announced the nominations Wednesday.

Krista Cole, of Sur Lie in Portland and Gather in Yarmouth, is a semifinalist for the national Outstanding Restaurateur Award. Sur Lie is also a semifinalist in another national category, Outstanding Hospitality, where it will have some Maine competition to be a finalist – The Quarry in Monson. (Cole bought Gather restaurant from founder Matt Chappell almost exactly one year ago.)

Reached in the Azores, an island that is part of Portugal, where she’d just arrived Tuesday, Cole said she was “a little bit in shock” and “still processing it.” She found out she was a two-time (and a first-time) Beard semifinalist from a text message she received in Europe.

“It’s a little surreal. But a lot of hard work,” she said. “With the pandemic, we’ve all been through a lot.” She said she was pleased her team was being recognized for all their hard work. “I’m blown away,” she added.

For the second time, baker Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery in Portland is a semifinalist in the national category of Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker. In 2022, she made it to the finalist stage, but did not win the award.


In other categories in which the semifinalists must compete against restaurants, bars and bakeries from around the country, The Jewel Box in Portland is a contender for Outstanding Bar, while Wolfpeach in Camden is listed in the Best New Restaurant category. In most categories, Maine chefs and restaurants will be competing against 19 other semifinalists; however in the Best New Restaurant category, Wolfpeach will have longer odds, facing 29 other possible winners.

The category with the most Maine contenders is, as usual, the regional Best Chef: Northeast award. Five Mainers have been named as semifinalists: Sara Jenkins for Nina June in Rockport; Jason LaVerdiere for Flux in Lisbon Falls; and, in Portland, Courtney Loreg for Woodford Food & Beverage, Tony Pastor for Fore Street and Isaul Perez for Isa. Pastor took over the Fore Street kitchen almost exactly one year ago. The chefs will compete against chefs at restaurants in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Jenkins has been a semifinalist twice before, for her restaurants Porchetta and Porsena in New York in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Sam Hayward, an owner and the founding chef at Fore Street, was nominated for Beard awards many times over the years, as was the restaurant itself. In 2004, Hayward was the first Maine chef to ever win a James Beard award.

Five finalists – the foundation calls them “nominees” – in each category will be announced on March 29 in Nashville. The restaurant and chef winners will be announced at the annual awards ceremony on June 5 in Chicago. The Beard Foundation also gives out annual media and journalism awards. Nominees for those awards will be announced on April 26 in New York, while winners will be announced on June 3 in Chicago.

The foundation’s awards process has several stages. After an open call for nominations is put out – the public, James Beard Foundation subcommittee members and regional judges all may contribute – the subcommittee narrows the list to that year’s semifinalists; that is the list announced Wednesday. Then subcommittee members and regional judges are expected to visit the semifinalists and rate them on a set list of criteria. From there, the semifinalist list is narrowed to five nominees in each category. Finally, subcommittee members and regional judges discuss the finalists and vote on winners.

The prestigious annual awards, launched in 1990, have undergone sweeping changes in recent years. In addition to being “best” or “outstanding,” every category now asks restaurants and chefs to show evidence of meaningful social concerns. For instance, the winner of the Outstanding Restaurateur award is expected to “use their establishment(s) as a vehicle for building community, demonstrates creativity in entrepreneurship and integrity in restaurant operations, and is making efforts to create a sustainable work culture, while contributing positively to their broader community.”

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