The Academy of motion picture arts and Sciencesonly announces nominees, then presents awards. The James Beard Foundation Awards, known to industry folk as the culinary Oscars, is a little more baroque. Today, the foundation announced semi-finalists for its culinary prizes. This is only the first step toward a potential win — finalists will be announced March 15, before awards are presented in New York City on April 25. But Houston has an unusually high number of chefs and restaurateurs this morning who can say, "It's an honor just to be nominated."
Hugo's is unsurprisingly the runaway success. This is chef Hugo Ortega's sixth nod for Best Chef: Southwest. His wife, Tracy Vaught, is nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur for the couple's collection of restaurants that includes Hugo's, but also Caracol, Backstreet Café, Prego and brand-new Xochi. The service at Hugo's also got a nomination.
Another perpetual bridesmaid, Anvil Bar & Refuge, is nominated for Outstanding Bar Program once again. William Wright, who was recognized last year for his work at best new restaurant semi-finalist Helen Greek Food & Wine, is this year among the under-30-year-old Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees.
But Houston stands out most with a record five nominations for Best Chef: Southwest. Beside Ortega, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of the Pass have returned to the list, as has Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata. Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri earned her first nod this year since a 2012 nomination for more formal Indika.
New to the list? Jianyun Ye, of Mala Sichuan Bistro. It's a refreshing inclusion for the restaurant's less formal vibe, but also because with a Mexican, Japanese, Indian and Chinese nominee, the Beard Foundation seems to appreciate Houston's diversity just as much as we do.