James Beard Foundation representatives were in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square Wednesday morning to announce this year’s culinary award nominees.
The James Beard Awards are considered the Oscars of the restaurant industry. Philadelphia won big last year with four medals, including outstanding chef (Michael Solomonov, Zahav); outstanding restaurateur (Stephen Starr); and best chef in the Mid-Atlantic (Greg Vernick, Vernick Food & Drink).
The wins brought the Philadelphia restaurant scene’s vibrancy national recognition, and the James Beard Foundation — based in New York — decided to use it as a platform to announce this year’s nominees. Starr’s Parc Restaurant on Rittenhouse Square was staged for live-streaming the announcement online.
Four locals were nominated:
- Ellen Yin (Fork, High Street), for outstanding restaurateur
- Zahav, for outstanding service
- Rich Landau (Vedge), for best chef, Mid-Atlantic
- Camille Cogswell (Zahav), for rising star chef of the year
With 240 nominees in 64 categories, it’s a long list. Philadelphia had a decent showing but it was far from having the most nominees; Boston had seven; San Francisco 10; and Chicago swept with 14.
But every time local talent was named from the podium, the room erupted.
Landau, with his vegan restaurants Vedge and V Street (and a soon-to-open place in Washington, D.C.), has been nominated four times before, but it never occurred before a hometown crowd. In the past, the announcement of his nomination was met with less enthusiasm.
“I saw it on Twitter, and whoever was next to me shook my hand,” said Landau while standing near the bar of Parc still buzzing from the announcements. “It feels extra special today. We’re here on our home turf. We know pretty much everyone in this room. To hear your name called when you’re trembling a little bit, and to get a round of applause from all these people that know you, there’s nothing like it. I’m beside myself.”
Yin’s restaurants and staff have been nominated before, but it’s her first nomination — and she said she also felt the Philly yawp when her name was called.
“Philly is so passionate about everything,” she said. “It’s amazing to represent Philadelphia and to have our amazing restaurant scene behind us.”
Restaurants are by necessity a local affair — the good ones anyway — and the James Bead Foundation recognizes that terroir. Several of its awards specifically recognize industry leaders for advocating social issues, such as workplace safety and cultural food ways. Its judges are aware that top-tier restaurants reflect the flavors and values of their region.
“The worst thing is to go into a town where everyone wants it all to be like New York or Paris,” said Mitchell Davis, the foundation’s executive vice president. “We’d like the quality to be good, but we’d like something to be distinctive about being here. Otherwise, we’d just go to New York or Paris, and it would probably be better there.”
The winners of the James Beard media awards will be announced on April 27 in New York. The restaurant awards will be announced in Chicago on May 7.