You'll Want To Know 2022's Emerging Chef James Beard Award Winner

Every year the James Beard Foundation Awards sends shockwaves through the dining world. The awards presentation is sometimes referred to as the Oscars of the food world, and being given one of their prestigious awards is a career-defining moment for some chefs, authors, and restaurateurs.

Presented to members of the media, authors, chefs, and restaurateurs at all levels, one interesting category to keep an eye on is the emerging chef of the year. The James Beard Foundation describes the nominees as "a chef who displays exceptional talent, character, and leadership ability, and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come." This year there was stiff competition among the 20 nominees, but of course, only one chef took home the top prize.

Chef Edgar Rico was named 2022's emerging chef by the James Beard Foundation at the June 13 awards ceremony. Rico is the chef of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, which he runs with his fiance and co-owner Sara Mardanbigi, per Austin Monthly. Rico won out against fellow Austin chef Amanda Turner of Olamaie.

In his acceptance speech, Rico described the difficulties of opening a restaurant on a limited budget. Nixta Taqueria opened in Austin in October 2019, according to  Eater, mere months before the industry would be devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant has since overcome those struggles, going on to become one of the most talked-about restaurants in Austin.

Rico is known for elevating the classics

How does a taqueria stand out in a taco-flooded city like Austin? For chef Edgar Rico and Nixta Taqueria, it was about elevating the basics without losing what makes them special. According to Nixta's website, the restaurant "embraces comunidad, preserving and practicing ancestral methods, sourcing ethically and locally, and educating the public through food and culture."

For example, Rico told Austin Monthly he sees the tortilla as a blank canvas and wanted to hone in on the process that goes into their creation. Nixta processes all of their masa in-house, giving them more control over the tortilla flavors and ingredients, and creating an unmatched freshness to serve as the foundation for most of their dishes (via Infatuation).

Those tortillas are used to complement perhaps unexpected toppings like duck confit, beet tartare, and yellowfin tuna. Many of the items on the Nixta menu express a type of culinary fusion inspired by the owners' identities: The duck confit carnitas combines Rico's heritage with his fine dining education at the Culinary Institute of America (via Culture Map); The Infatuation describes the way that Rico used his time working in Los Angeles and Mexico City to influence dishes like the cured tuna tostada; the New York Times highlights the fusion of Mexican and Iranian rice puddings inspired by Rico and Mardanbigi's respective cultures.

With this win, Rico has earned a reputation as one of the top chefs working in the United States today.