Barak Olins bags biscotti at ZUbakery in Portland, which beat out four other bakeries from around the nation to capture the Outstanding Bakery award at the Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Two of Maine’s four James Beard Foundation Award finalists were recognized for their excellence Monday night, beating out competition from around the country to take home national awards.

Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery won for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker and ZUbakery won for Outstanding Bakery. Both bakeries are in Portland.

“Well, it looks like Portland, Maine, might be vying for pastry capital of America,” said Amanda Freitag, a chef co-hosting the ceremony at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago.

In her acceptance speech, Fujimoto thanked her bakery team, family and Portland’s food service industry at large.

“I want to thank everyone that I worked with and I have worked for in the past 20 years in the kitchens in Portland, Maine,” Fujimoto said after receiving her award at the Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony, which aired live on YouTube. ” Thank you for making me a baker.”

Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery won the James Beard award for outstanding pastry chef. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Maine had two other finalists, Jake Stevens of Leeward for Best Chef: Northeast and Woodford Food & Beverage for Outstanding Hospitality. The Best Chef: Northeast category was won by David Standridge of The Shipwright’s Daughter, which features seafood-centric fine dining in Mystic, Connecticut. And the Outstanding Hospitality award went to Lula Cafe in Chicago.


Barak Olins originally founded ZUBakery, a micro-boulangerie, as a farm stand in Freeport in 2000, selling his baked goods at farmers markets for two decades. Olins opened a storefront location in Portland’s West End in 2022. ZUBakery was up against The Burque Bakehouse of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Gusto Bread of Long Beach, California; JinJu Patisserie of Portland, Oregon; and Mel the Bakery of Hudson, New York.

“Thank you to my loyal and lovely customers, for many of whom are now friends,” Olins said in his acceptance speech. “Thank you to the nearby businesses for being part of a beautiful neighborhood cluster.”

Fujimoto, who was a finalist for the same award in 2022 and a semifinalist last year, competed with Anna Posey of the Scandinavian-inspired restaurant Elske in Chicago; Susan Bae, pastry chef of the acclaimed Vietnamese fine-dining restaurant Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C.; Crystal Kass of Valentine restaurant in Phoenix; and Jesus Brazon and Manuel Brazon, Caracas Bakery, Doral and Miami, Florida.

The four finalists advanced from the semifinal round, which included 10 Maine restaurants and chefs.

Last year, Maine’s only finalist, The Quarry in Monson, won the award for Outstanding Hospitality.

Other Mainers who have received James Beard Awards include Sam Hayward (Fore Street), Rob Evans (Hugo’s), Melissa Kelly (Primo), Rob Tod (Allagash Brewing), Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (Arrows), and Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor (Eventide, Honey Paw).

Winners receive a medallion and a certificate.

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