This morning, the James Beard Foundation released its 2018 list of James Beard Award semi-finalists, an annual occurrence that always has us excited and proud of Colorado's restaurant scene — at least until the winners are announced (which will be on May 7 in Chicago this year) and we're blanked again. While Colorado has had a few deserving victories over the years, including Best Chef: Southwest awards for Rioja's Jennifer Jasinski (2013) and Frasca Food & Wine's Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (2008), many of our finest chefs, restaurants, bakers, liquor experts and other food specialists have not received recognition, especially when compared to honors bestowed on other "hot" food cities.
This year, though, the JBF looked beyond the big names to give some love to a few outstanding representatives of the food industry in and around Denver. Andy Clark, founder of Moxie Bread Company in Louisville, was tagged in the Outstanding Baker category, along with nineteen other bakers around the country. In the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional category, Todd Leopold of Leopold Bros. earned a spot in a field with only four other distilleries represented on the list of twenty semi-finalists.
Frasca, a perennial favorite among James Beard voters, makes an appearance this year in the Outstanding Restaurant category. Newcomer Annette, which just opened a year ago in Stanley Marketplace, earned two semi-finalist slots: one for Best New Restaurant and one for Best Chef: Southwest, for chef/owner Caroline Glover. That's pretty impressive, considering this is Glover's first gig as an executive chef and Annette is actually in Aurora, which doesn't exactly draw national attention for its high-end restaurant scene.
Also getting Best Chef: Southwest nods are Dana Rodriguez for Work & Class and Alex Seidel for Mercantile Dining & Provision (he was previously nominated for his first restaurant, Fruition). Out west, the Little Nell in Aspen received a nomination for Outstanding Wine Program.
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The variety of nominations this year is a definite sign of Denver's growth as a food city, but will any of the semi-finalists go on to grab glory on the stage in Chicago? Plenty of great chefs and restaurants have made it to the first round in years past, including Frank Bonanno (Outstanding Restaurateur), Yasmin Lozada-Hissom (Outstanding Pastry Chef), Jorel Pierce (Rising Star) and Eric Skokan, Jeff Osaka and Steven Redzikowski (all for Best Chef: Southwest). ChoLon and Williams & Graham have also made the list for Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Beverage Program, respectively.
But the big prizes have proven elusive. Outside of the kitchen and bar, then-Westword restaurant critic Jason Sheehan won a first-place Journalism award for Newspaper Restaurant Review or Critique, and another Westword writer, Jared Jacang Maher, won an award for his feature "A Hunger to Help," about Denver's SAME Cafe. And, of course, in 2014, Adrian Miller took a top prize in the James Beard books competition for Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time.
We'll keep our fingers crossed for some big wins this year, but in the meantime, we celebrate this city's culinary scene every day by consuming good food and booze that the rest of the country has yet to discover. And you can make your opinion count, too: We're coming up on our annual Best of Denver issue (slated for March 29), so be sure to vote for your favorites in our Best of Denver Readers' Poll.