Rob Rubba Is The Winner Of The 2023 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award

Rob Rubba of Oyster Oyster in Washington, D.C. is the winner of the 2023 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award. Rubba's was the final award given on an evening celebrating America's best and brightest chefs and restaurants. Fellow nominees included Rachel Miller of Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn, MA, Niki Nakayama of n/naka in Los Angeles, CA, Erik Ramirez of Llama Inn in Brooklyn, NY, and Hajime Sato of Sozai in Clawson, MI.

The red-carpet event, held at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, IL (which was also live-streamed on Eater), was hosted by Eric Adjepong, Esther Choi, Gail Simmons, and Andrew Zimmern. The James Beard Foundation's award ceremony is held annually and is considered to be among the highest honors in the American food industry. The awards highlight and honor chefs, restaurants, food media figures, and industry leaders from all corners of the country. 

Though the awards have come under criticism for changes to their voting policy, and a lack of diversity in previous nominations, among other things, the event turned out to be a delightful affair. CNN quoted Gail Simmons as saying, "Tonight is not about the negative. It's about celebrating chefs and the industry we love so much." Rubba's win highlights the Foundation's recognition of his commitment to plant-forward dining and sustainability. 

Dedicated to sustainability

Rubba's restaurant, Oyster Oyster, which he runs with sommelier Max Kuller, currently holds one Michelin Star and focuses on locally sourced, sustainable produce. The restaurant's name is based on two things — oyster mushrooms and the oyster bivalve. Each is symbolic of the kind of local sustainability Oyster Oyster strives for, something they describe as "the dining experience of the future." The oysters served at the restaurant are sourced from the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to rebuild the depleted oyster reefs and bring about lasting, sustainable change to the local waterway. The restaurant's interior design echoes this "green" commitment through its use of LED lighting, a policy that shuns single-use plastics, and the many terra cotta potted and hanging plants defining the space. Rubba's win recognizes the value of his mission and will surely inspire others to do the same. 

In the streamed acceptance speech, Rubba thanked his team, along with his wife, who he described as "his rock," and children, who were up far past their bedtime. He rounded out his speech with an appeal to a positive future for cuisine: "I just hope every day to give the next generation everything I have so that they can progress and succeed." If Rubba's example is anything to go by, the emphasis on local, sustainable dining is a model to build upon.