The James Beard Foundation announced its 2020 nominees on Monday, May 4, and four well-known Arizona chefs are finalists for the most prestigious awards in the restaurant industry.
Three Arizona chefs are in the mix for the category of Best Chef – Southwest. They are Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale, Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Café Gran Reserva and Barrio Cafe in Phoenix and Jeff Smedstad of Elote Cafe in Sedona.
Arizona also has a nominee in the Outstanding Restaurant category: perennial favorite Pizzeria Bianco, by chef Chris Bianco.
Nominees were announced via live video stream on Twitter. A ceremony had been planned in Philadelphia, but it had to be canceled because of the new coronavirus pandemic. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney joined the video, offering words of support and encouragement for restaurants around the country and congratulations to the nominees.
The 2020 James Beard Award winners will be crowned on Sept. 25. See the full list of 2020 nominees at the James Beard Award website.
What Esparza says about her nomination
For chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, the nomination is bittersweet as she recently had to close the restaurant the award recognizes. She closed Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva on Grand Avenue in Phoenix in order to put her limited resources into her original restaurant, Barrio Cafe on 16th Street.
But the nomination is about more than the restaurant, she says. It is about representation for her culture.
“I consider myself a cultural warrior,” Esparza says. “What I’ve done at the restaurants is in honor of my family, my grandfather’s bakery, my mother, my grandmother and my culture.”
Her family is from Mexico and Gran Reserva’s menu highlighted regional dishes she created after traveling throughout the country.
“With the nomination I honor the indigenous women who shared their recipes with me in Mexico,” she says. “I honor those who’ve kept the real food of Mexico alive.”
If she is named Best Chef – Southwest, Esparza says the award will be dedicated to those people as well.
MORE: How Silvana Salcido Esparza redefined Phoenix Mexican food
Bianco feels honored, but finding it hard to celebrate
Pizzeria Bianco, owned by famous pizza maker Chris Bianco, was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant on Monday. He says the nomination recognizes a collective effort.
“Everything that we do is a labor of love and humanity,” Bianco says. “And it’s always an honor to be recognized by your peers.”
While the nomination is exciting, it’s hard to celebrate during a time when so many restaurants are struggling, Bianco says from a kitchen currently working on a sandwich pop-up at his midtown location of Pane Bianco.
“I’m looking forward to a time when we can eat and drink together again,” he says. “There will be a day when we drink a few beers but right now just doesn’t feel like a celebratory time.”
Bianco’s excitement for his fellow nominee Chrysa Robertson seemed to outweigh that of his own.
“I am extremely happy for her,” he says. “She is just an authentic human being and she has a passion about cooking, about life itself and about the state we live in. She is someone that I respect greatly.”
Bianco once worked for Robertson at the original location of Rancho Pinot in the Town and Country shopping center at Camelback Road and 20th Street. Later, when Robertson moved her restaurant to Scottsdale, Biancorented the space and transformed it into a Pizzeria Bianco.
Arizona’s 2020 James Beard Award semifinalists
The James Beard Awards recognize the best of the best in the dining world, and although many restaurants are closed at the moment, the chefs’ work in the past year stands for itself.
In the first round of the competition, 22 chefs and restaurants from around Arizona were named semifinalists on Feb. 26.
Best Chef — Southwest
- Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta in Phoenix.
- Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House in Scottsdale.
- Shinji Kurita of ShinBay Omakase Room in Scottsdale.
- Danielle Leoni of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in Phoenix.
- Maria Mazon of BOCA Tacos y Tequila in Tucson.
- Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale.
- Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Café Gran Reserva in Phoenix.
- Samantha Sanz of Talavera in Scottsdale.
- Jeff Smedstad of Elote Cafe in Sedona.
- Ryan Swanson of Kai on the Gila River Reservation.
The 2020 awards mark the eighth time Esparza has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef – Southwest. This is chef Jeff Smedstad’s second time as a semifinalist.
Other Arizona semifinalists
- Outstanding Baker: Don Guerra of Barrio Bread in Tucson.
- Best New Restaurant: Vecina in Phoenix.
- Outstanding Bar Program: Little Rituals in Phoenix.
- Outstanding Chef: Nobuo Fukuda of Nobuo at Teeter House in Phoenix.
- Outstanding Hospitality: Kai on the Gila River Reservation.
- Outstanding Hospitality: Mi Nidito Restaurant in Tucson.
- Outstanding Pastry Chef: Country Velador of Super Chunk Sweets & Treats in Scottsdale.
- Outstanding Restaurant: Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.
- Outstanding Restaurateur: Mike Mastro and Jeff Mastro of Prime Steak Concepts in Scottsdale (Dominick’s Steakhouse, Steak 44, Ocean 44).
- Outstanding Wine Program: FnB in Scottsdale.
- Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer: Stephen Paul of Hamilton Distillers, producer of Whiskey Del Bac, in Tucson.
- Rising Star Chef of the Year: Cassie Shortino of Tratto in Phoenix.
James Beard Awards in Arizona
The James Beard Foundation started the awards in 1990 as a way to promote “American Cuisine,” according to the foundation’s website. The awards are recognized as the most competitive and sought-after awards in dining.
Arizona chefs and restaurants have collected many nominations over the years, but the state suffered a drought, bringing home no awards for 12 years.
That changed in 2019 when Charleen Badman won Best Chef – Southwest. The veteran chef owns FnB restaurant in Scottsdale. This year, her restaurant earned a semifinalist spot in the category for Outstanding Wine Program.
Also in 2019, Chrysa Robertson was named a semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category. It was the first time she earned recognition from the James Beard Awards.
MORE: Rancho Pinot turns 25: How one chef has built a culinary icon in Scottsdale
Who’s in the Southwest region?
The geographic boundaries of the award categories received an update for the 2020 competition. New York and California were defined as stand-alone regions, and the Southwest region has undergone significant changes.
Texas is no longer classified within the Southwest. It’s now its own region.
The Southwest category also lost Colorado and Utah, both of which joined a new Mountain Region. Nevada was added to the Southwest category, which now includes Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/dining/2020/05/04/2020-james-beard-awards-arizona-chefs-restaurants-finalists/3057992001/
Source: Thanks https://eu.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/dining/2020/05/04/2020-james-beard-awards-arizona-chefs-restaurants-finalists/3057992001/