The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday announced the nominees for its annual awards, among the most prestigious in the culinary world. For the second consecutive year, no St. Louis chefs or restaurants made the cut.
Three St. Louis chefs had been among the 20 semifinalists vying to win “Best Chef: Midwest”: Nick Bognar of Indo, Rob Connoley of Bulrush and Loryn Nalic of Balkan Treat Box.
The five “Best Chef: Midwest” nominees revealed Wednesday include one chef each from Milwaukee, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Omaha, Nebraska. Two of the nominees are chefs from Madison, Wisconsin.
The category covers restaurants in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
St. Louis had also notched three semifinalists in national James Beard Award categories: La Patisserie Chouquette for “Oustanding Bakery,” the Gin Room for “Outstanding Bar” and Take Root Hospitality (the restaurant group that operates Vicia, Taqueria Morita, Bistro La Floraison and Winslow’s Table) for “Outstanding Restaurateur.”
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None of these three made Wednesday’s list of nominees, either.
Historically, St. Louis semifinalists have struggled to break through in the national categories, which by definition feature a wider pool of candidates, many from larger cities with higher-profile dining scenes.
The absence in 2022 and now this year of at least one St. Louis chef from the “Best Chef: Midwest” nominees is far more striking. Two St. Louis chefs have won the award in the past eight years: Gerard Craft of Niche in 2015 and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in 2017.
Michael Gallina of Vicia was a nominee for “Best Chef: Midwest” in the 2019 and 2020 James Beard Awards. The 2020 awards were canceled before the winners were announced. The awards were not held in 2021 due to the pandemic.
In this restaurant’s critic opinion, Bognar, Connoley and Nalic are all easily “Best Chef: Midwest”-caliber chefs. Alas, they and the many other possible local candidates must now wait until 2024 for their next chance at a James Beard Award.
(Disclosure: I served on the James Beard Awards restaurants and chefs committee from September 2013 through July 2021. I had no role whatsoever in this year’s awards.)