Seattle Chefs Make Strong Showing on James Beard Noms

By Leslie Kelly  |  February 19, 2014
Credit: Geoffrey Smith

The 2014 James Beard Foundation semifinalist nominations have been announced and Seattle stalwarts such as Ethan Stowell, Jason Stratton from Spinasse, Jason Franey from Canlis, dynamo couple Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi from Joule and Lark's John Sundstrom are on the prestigious list, chef Sundstrom, a previous winner for Best Chef in the Northwest, is now nominated for Outstanding Chef in the nation. Canlis is up for Outstanding Restaurant once again, and Cafe Juanita is on the semis lineup for Outstanding Service. Rick and Ann Yoder of Wild Ginger are vying for Outstanding Restaurateur, an honor Tom Douglas won in 2012. Yet, the biggest news is how many first-timers get the nod. High fives on their inaugural appearance to Dustin Ronspies from Art of the Table, Hitchcock's Brendan McGill, Eric Donnelly from Rock Creek, Renee Erickson and The Whale Wins, all semi-finialists for Best Chef in the Northwest. Chris Weber from The Herbfarm and Willow Inn's Blaine Wetzel are up for Rising Star Best New Chef and Neil Robertson is on a star-studded list for Best Pastry Chef in the nation.

"I'm shocked," Robertson said, on the phone while in the kitchen at his Capitol Hill bakery, Crumble & Flake. "I just have this tiny little bakery. I looked at the names on that list and thought, no way do I rank with those people. I am so absolutely excited."

McGill woke up to the news and said he thought he was dreaming: "This is something I wouldn't have expected. I had no idea. I thought you had to go and cook at the James Beard House to get nominated. I'm so happy, especially for my team."

Donnelly - a seasoned chef, who opened Rock Creek in August - was beyond thrilled. "Wow. This is pretty wild. It's something I've always wanted, one of my life goals, but it seems unreal. Even to be in a pool with all those really talented people is incredible," he said.

Weber has been chef at The Herbfarm for the last three years also expressed admiration for his fellow nominees: "I'm in some pretty good company. It's great to see Seattle and Washington state so well-represented. It's good for people to know what we're doing here."

Other Seattle highlights:

Canon is on the semi-finalist list for Outstanding Bar Program. Owner Jamie Boudreau said of the bar's second appearance on the semis: "It is, of course, a great honor, and I'm especially thankful to our amazing staff that is able to execute this complex program and to the city of Seattle for embracing cocktail culture in general, allowing all of the great bars and bartenders in the city to make Seattle one of the best cocktail cities in the nation."

Jason Stratton's dream project, Aragona, is up for Best New Restaurant, along with James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Matthew Dillon's dazzling Bar Sajor.

Check out the complete list on Zagat. Finalists will be announced March 18. The annual awards ceremony is May 5 in New York City.