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Three H-Town chefs are James Beard Award finalists: Is this Houston's year?

Chris Shepherd chef April 2013
Chris Shepherd is a James Beard Award finalist for the second year in a row.  Photo by Michael C. Burnett/Twitter
Oxheart Restaurant diners Justin Yu
Justin Yu is a first time James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef Southwest.  Photo by © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau
Hugo Ortega in Mexico at restaurant with tequila February 2014
Hugo Ortega is a third time James Beard Award finalist.  Hugo's/Facebook
Chris Shepherd chef April 2013
Oxheart Restaurant diners Justin Yu
Hugo Ortega in Mexico at restaurant with tequila February 2014

Houston hasn't had a James Beard-award-winning chef in more than 20 years when Robert del Grande took the top honor in 1992, but that could soon change.

Three out of the five chefs in the Best Chef Southwest category are finalists for the 2014 awards. Nominations were announced at a press conference Tuesday morning in Chicago. The awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world, recognizing chefs, media, designers and more.

Of the three Houston chefs who were nominated as semifinalists for Best Chef Southwest, all have moved on to become finalists. They are: Hugo Ortega of Hugo'sBackstreet Cafe and Caracol; Chris Shepherd of Underbelly and Justin Yu of Oxheart. Ortega and Shepherd were finalists last year; it is Yu's first year as a finalist. Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine in Austin and Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant near Phoenix round out the category. 

Anvil Bar & Refuge, which had been selected as a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program, did not make it to the finalist round. 

Last year, Triniti earned a finalist nod for Best Design, but no Houston restaurants earned that recognition this year.

Chronicle critic Alison Cook earned a nomination for the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award for her reviews of Corkscrew BBQ, Pho Hung and The Pass. The Foundation also nominated Cook for the award last year.

Broadcast and New Media awards will be announced on May 2. Chopped host Ted Allen and chef Mario Batali will host the chef awards on May 5. 

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