Awesome people are in the longlist of semifinalists for the nation’s most prestigious restaurant awards.
Congratulations to Shawn McKenzie, the co-founder of Café Ceres and executive pastry chef at Rustica. She’s in the running for a national award, Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker. It’s her first time up for the award, and she is just a tremendous person and great baker. (Listen to me and Shawn chat on my WCCO Radio podcast.)
Four Minnesota chefs are semifinalists for Best Chef Midwest, one of the regional best chef awards. I’m so glad to see Christina Nguyen on the list again—she’s the chef and owner of Hai Hai and Hola Arepa. She’s been to the big leagues before, as a finalist for Best Chef Midwest in 2019, when Ann Kim won for Young Joni (and gave her famous F*** Fear speech). Nguyen was a semifinalist in 2020 (the awards were canceled that year after the murder of George Floyd, when the Beards took a look at their own history of nominating and awarding white men) and in 2018.
Yia Vang repeats as a semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest. Yia’s counter-service Union Hmong Kitchen is great, but his work at the State Fair and in media sharing his story through Hmong cooking is as much a part of this nod as UHK is (for good reason!). Plus, Yia’s pop-ups and private events are truly a joy. He’s a great talent.
For the first time, Ann Ahmed is a semifinalist! Ann’s done an incredible job with Khaluna and Lat 14. I’m a longtime fan and am so excited for her to be included in the conversation of our best talents. (Here’s my latest blog on Yia’s and Ann’s newest ventures.)
My thoughts? This is a good (not great) showing for us—partially reflecting what our community is bringing to the culinary table, and partially reflecting the growth of quality in Milwaukee, Kansas City, and St. Louis. In the Best Chef Midwest nominations, we have 4 of 20. Milwaukee has 2, Madison has 2, Kansas City and the St. Louis area have 3 each. As far as the national awards—is there really one of our new restaurants that should be on the list?
Jason’s list of snubs
Snubs? The JBF has shown a willingness to include non-traditional sit-down restaurants in the conversation—Union Hmong Kitchen is a great example of that. So why not include Jamie Malone? Her Paris Dining Club private events are amazing, and the meals she’s been doing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art have been the most thought-provoking, incredible meals of the year for me.
Jon Wipfli of Animales BBQ and Animales Burger Truck has been so outstanding. I think he belongs on the list.
World Street Kitchen and Sameh Wadi don’t get the credit they deserve—if Sameh opened WSK today, I think it would for sure be in this conversation.
Alexandra Motz should be in the pastry mix. She doesn’t have the national reputation that her mentor Diane Moua had at Spoon and Stable, but Alex’s pastries are top-tier and worthy of long list inclusion. So is Sarah Boetcher—Black Walnut Bakery is phenomenal.
Meteor Bar should be in best bar program. So should O’Shaughnessy Distilling.
Who do you think belongs on this list? Drop your names or restaurants in the comments!