Five New Orleans restaurants and chefs were in the running for this year’s James Beard Foundation awards, with three represented in a single category. None have won any of the coveted restaurant awards, the first excluded from such honors in a decade, although one won a media award for a cookbook.
The James Beard Foundation presented its annual culinary awards Monday night (June 13), at a gala in Chicago.
Sometimes compared to the Oscars of the film industry, these awards are closely watched in the hospitality industry and by restaurant enthusiasts. The last time no New Orleans name won a restaurant or chef award was in 2012.
History Brennan Restaurant was a finalist for the National Outstanding Restaurant Award, given to Chai Pani in Asheville, North Carolina.
Another contender from New Orleans for a national award was chef Serigne Mbaye, of the Dakar NOLA pop-up and community restaurant series, a finalist for the Emerging Chef award. This award went to Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas.
In the regional Best Chef: South category, New Orleans sent three finalists: Blake Aguillard and Trey Smith of Saint-Germain, the tasting-menu bistro merged with anytime wine bar in Bywater; Melissa Martin, of Mosquito Supper Club, serving a taste of bayou country home cooking in an Uptown cottage; and Isaac Toups, of Meat of Toupsa perennial contender for this award for his robust take on Cajun cuisine.
This regional award went to Adam Evans of Automatic Seafood and Oysters, Birmingham, Alabama.
Martin had already won an award by the time the gala started. The James Beard Foundation announced the winners of its media awards on Saturday, and Uptown Mosquito Supper Club restaurant chef/owner Melissa Martin won the award in the “US Foodways” category for her cookbook “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou.”
New Orleans is normally well represented at the James Beard Awards. This year, the city had a dozen nominees vying, and half that number made it to the finalists.
It was the first time since 2019 that the James Beard Foundation had held its awards, having canceled them deep in the awards process in 2020 and then scrapped them altogether in 2021 amid turmoil in the hospitality industry.
The foundation conducted an audit of its awards program, focusing on diversity, equity and accessibility. The nominees announced this year showed a wider range of restaurant styles, price ranges and cuisines.
The foundation demanded that nominations for the awards this year include “alignment instructionsexplaining how their work aligns with the awards’ mission and core values, which include “a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”