Houston's restaurants are well represented on the James Beard Foundation's list of the semifinalists for its 2017 Awards. The awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world, recognizing chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, media members and more.
The city is looking to build off the momentum generated from Oxheart chef-owner Justin Yu's win for Best Chef: Southwest in 2016 and Underbelly chef-owner Chris Shepherd's win in 2014. This year's nominees consist of a mix of returning candidates as well as a surprising new entries.
Six Houston chefs from five restaurants will compete for the title this year. That's the most for any Texas city ahead of Dallas (four), Austin, and San Antonio (one each). Hugo Ortega (Hugo's), Manabu Horiuchi (Kata Robata), Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan (The Pass & Provisions) all earned semifinalist nods last year. Anita Jaisinghani earns her first nomination since 2012, but this time it's for casual Pondicheri rather than her fine dining restaurant Indika.
Houston's only first time semifinalist is Jianyun Ye of Mala Sichuan Bistro. Nice to see the Beard voters recognizing that restaurants on Bellaire are just as worthy of recognition as those on Westheimer.
The panel selected William Wright (Helen Greek Food & Wine) for the the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, which is presented to a chef under 30 "who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come." Last year, Helen was a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category.
Similarly, Ortega's wife and business partner Tracy Vaught has been nominated for the second year in a row in the Outstanding Restaurateur category, along with Ford Fry (State of Grace) and Sam Fox (True Food Kitchen, North Italia). Vaught's restaurant Hugo's has also earned a nomination for Outstanding Service. Finally, Anvil Bar & Refuge is once again a nominee for Outstanding Bar Program.
The foundation will announce the finalists in the various categories on March 15. The awards will be presented on May 1 in Chicago.