Could a Houston chef follow up Underbelly chef/owner Chris Shepherd's historic James Beard Award win for Best Chef Southwest with another victory? Two men will have that opportunity, as the James Beard Foundation revealed Tuesday that they are finalists for the award.
Oxheart chef/owner Justin Yu and Hugo's/Caracol/Backstreet Cafe chef/owner Hugo Ortega have both been named James Beard finalists. That's the second year as a finalist for Yu and the fourth for Ortega, who'll start earning a reputation as the category's Susan Lucci if he's skipped again.
Yu and Ortega will compete against Arizona chef Kevin Binkley, Austin barbecue master Aaron Franklin, New Mexico chef Martin Rios and Bryce Gilmore of Austin's Barley Swine at the awards, which will be announced in Chicago on May 4.
The rest of the announcements have to be seen as a bit of a letdown for Houston, as none of the city's other semifinalists advanced to the finals. Anvil Bar & Refuge failed to earn its first finalist nomination for Outstanding Bar Program, and Hugo's did not earn a finalist bid for Outstanding Wine Program.
Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook did not receive a fourth consecutive nomination for the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award. The Foundation's Book, Broadcast, and Journalism Awards dinner will take place in New York on April 24.
Neither Houston native Ford Fry, who will open State of Grace in River Oaks this summer, nor Fox Restaurant Concepts owner Sam Fox, who has made a big push into Houston with True Food Kitchen and North Italia, moved onto the finals in the Restaurateur of the Year Category either.
Still, Yu and Ortega are strong contenders, and Houston's hopes for back to back James Beard wins remain strong.