Why Wasn’t Gavin Kaysen Nominated for a James Beard Award?

Spoon and Stable, Gavin Kaysen

What a line-up of Twin Cities chefs on the James Beard Foundation long list for 2016. Diane Yang (Spoon and Stable) finally gets her well-deserved nod as a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Michelle Gayer (The Salty Tart) is pulled out of the Best Chef: Midwest regional category to her rightful place as a national semifinalist for Outstanding Baker, along with John Kraus from Patisserie 46.

The seven restaurants represented in the Best Chef: Midwest category compete against Milwaukee, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Madison. Everyone on the list is doing top-notch work: from first-timers like Thomas Boemer of Corner Table and Jorge Guzman of Surly Brewer’s Table, to nine-time semifinalist Lenny Russo of Heartland. The Travail team is back, Paul Berglund of Bachelor Farmer, Jim Christiansen of Heyday, and Russell Klein of Meritage—all great talents.

But people both in and out of the restaurant industry have been asking me: Why isn’t Gavin Kaysen nominated?

The answer is simple: He doesn’t qualify.

To be nominated as Best Chef for one of the regions, chefs have to be working for five years (check) with the three most recent years in the region (nope). Gavin has to get to three years to be nominated. Some of the other categories also reward longevity: Outstanding Restaurant has to be open 10 or more consecutive years. I think Kaysen could have been nominated for the national Outstanding Chef category, as you only have to be working as a chef for the past five years. But almost all of the nominees (including the exceptional Tory Miller from L’Etoile in Madison) have been working at their restaurants for that time period.

So, no scandal, no snub—just not qualified.

How do people end up on the long list? Nominations come in from restaurants, chefs, diners, media—it doesn’t cost anything to submit. This year more than 20,000 entries came in for restaurant and chef awards. There’s a committee of 17 journalists chaired by Phil Vettel, the food critic from the Chicago Tribune, and they decide who gets nominated. These people are based in Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Mexico, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Texas, and Washington D.C. Have they eaten at all these spots? Absolutely not. But the lists of semifinalists are still solid. The committee knows what they’re talking about and are well versed in the national dining community.

The ballot of semifinalists will then go out to more than 300 previous James Beard Restaurant & Chef Award winners and 250 panelists that are divided evenly among 10 regions, and 17 members of the Restaurant and Award subcommittee.

So good luck to all our Minnesotans! Go eat at their restaurants!