Once again, Houston is well-represented on the James Beard Foundation's list of the semifinalists for its 2018 Awards. The awards are considered the Oscars of the culinary world, recognizing chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, media members, and more.
After a 22-year Beard drought, Houston has been ascending. The city's chefs have won three of the last four Best Chef: Southwest awards — Underbelly's Chris Shepherd in 2014, Oxheart's Justin Yu in 2016, and Hugo's chef-owner Hugo Ortega in 2017.
This year's semifinalist crop includes four first-time nominees: Ross Coleman and James Haywood (Kitchen 713); Ronnie Killen (Killen's Steakhouse); Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles); and Ryan Pera (Coltivare). Pondicheri chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani also returns as a semifinalist. Other intriguing Texas nominees include “Tootsie” Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ, ranked by Texas Monthly as the state's best barbecue joint, Steve McHugh (Cured in San Antonio), and Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine in Austin).
Houstonians earned nominations in a number of other categories, too. Martha de Leon, who recently departed Pax Americana, is nominated in the Rising Star Chef of the Year. Aqui's Jillian Bartolome is an Outstanding Pastry Chef Nominee. Anvil repeats as a semifinalist in the Outstanding Bar Program category, and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is nominated for Outstanding Wine Program.
Count the H-Town Restaurant Group as the day's biggest local winner. Following up on Ortega's win last year, his wife and business partner Tracy Vaught earns a nomination for the ultra-prestigious Outstanding Restaurateur category. In addition, Xochi is nominated as one of America's Best New Restaurants, and Hugo's is nominated for Outstanding Service.
Some of the credit for today's good news undoubtedly belongs to Eater critic Bill Addison, who serves as the chair of the Foundation's Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee. Addison has long been a fan of Houston's diverse crop of restaurants. He touted Kitchen 713 in a 2017 review and named Xochi to his list of last year's best new restaurants.
The Foundation will announce the finalists on March 14. The awards will be presented on May 7 in Chicago.