The James Beard Awards Announced Its 2023 Chef And Restaurant Semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation has released a list of semifinalists for its 2023 Best Restaurant and Chef Awards — and there are notable changes this year. The awards, which were first handed out in 1991, have been refreshed, marking a departure from the way they have been done in the past. A new Outstanding Bakery category has been introduced, and now there are no age limits for the Emerging Chef category, per Eater. There are also new Best Chef categories for California, Texas, and New York — an effort to recognize a wider geographic range of winners.

USA Today shared some highlights from the list, pointing out the strong representation from Arizona. 12 chefs and restaurants from the Southwestern state have been named this year. Additionally, Cincinnati has five semifinalists across the Outstanding Restaurant, Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, and Best Chef: Great Lakes categories — a significant feat for a city that hasn't gotten a lot of attention in the past, according to the outlet.

Some of the names on the list are repeat semifinalists

This year's list has repeat names as well as newcomers. Los Angeles lays claim to two eight-time semifinalists: Margarita Manzke of République, who is in the Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker category this year, and Niki Nakayama of two-Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant N/naka, who is in the running for Outstanding Chef (via the Los Angeles Times). The city also has new culinary talent represented, such as Rashida Holmes of Carribbean spot Bridgetown Roti for Emerging Chef and Korean American eatery Yangban Society for Best New Restaurant.

Texas has a total of 41 semifinalists, described by Texas Monthly as a "diverse group" showcasing the "dynamism of the state's dining scene." The new Best Chef: Texas category includes 11 pitmasters, indicating a strong showing for barbecue. Mexican cuisine from the Lone Star State is also in the spotlight, with 13 Mexican restaurants up for awards across various categories.

Over in New York, the semifinalists for Best New Restaurant include the two-Michelin-starred Italian eatery Al Coro and Nigerian restaurant Dept of Culture (via Eater NY). The majority of the chefs in the Best Chef: New York State category are in New York City — with exception to four in other parts of the state, such as Sohail Zandi of Brushland Eating House in Bovina.

The James Beard Awards are not without controversy

Though its awards are widely seen as the "Oscars of Food," the James Beard Foundation has faced significant problems in the past. The organization canceled its awards ceremony in 2020, ostensibly due to the coronavirus pandemic (via Eater). However, it later emerged that another reason was to make time for an audit of the awards program, per The New York Times.

The audit came after an employee at the foundation raised concerns that no Black people were among any of the winners. The organization had also received certain accusations against a number of its 2020 nominees after the vote had been made. Both issues led the foundation to propose another vote using a revised ballot — a move that the committee saw as a compromise of the awards' integrity.

Another past controversy surrounding the awards happened in 2004, when several judges resigned after the foundation's board faced allegations of financial misuse (via The New York Times).

The awards program returned in 2022 after an extensive audit that took place in 2021, calling for more inclusivity among not only awardees but also decision-makers. This year's list of semifinalists continues to reflect changes made after the audit, which set a goal to have least half of the committee and judges be people of color for the 2023 awards (via Eater).

The winners for this year's Restaurant and Chef Awards will be announced on June 5.