As Denver's food scene continues to boil over, the city's chefs and eateries are getting more and more attention from national media and recognition from groups dedicated to celebrating the country's best restaurants. The James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its annual chef and restaurant awards today, and among them were five Denver and Boulder nominees. While Aspen and Vail have often been the focus of past nominations, the mountain towns were snubbed this year in favor of Front Range favorites.
This year's James Beard Award semi-finalists for Best Chef Southwest are Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class, Alex Seidel of Fruition and Steven Redzikowski of Oak at Fourteenth. Frasca Food and Wine was nominated in the Outstanding Restaurant category and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom got the nod in the Outstanding Pastry Chef division for her work at Spuntino. Each category includes more than twenty other nominees, so the competition is tough. The final nominees will be named on March 24 and the awards ceremony is scheduled for April 25. The list of semifinalists was selected by a panel of critics, writers and editors who combed through more than 35,000 submissions.
The James Beard Foundation also singled out Brandon Foster, executive chef at Vesta Dipping Grill. He's been invited to cook at the James Beard House on February 25 with four other chefs from around the country for the Foundation's third annual Skuna Bay "Salmon Seduction" dinner. Foster — who works with Skuna Bay salmon at Vesta — will cook salmon dishes alongside chefs from New York City, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Ohio.
In addition to chefs, Denver restaurants are making national news. Punch Bowl Social was named one of ten Breakout Brands by Nation's Restaurant News this week. The magazine defines its choices as "cutting-edge restaurant concepts that are set to redefine food service." Punch Bowl Social, headed by restaurateur Robert Thompson and with current locations in Denver, Portland, Austin and Detroit, was the only Denver-based company to make the list, but two others, Native Foods and Rusty Taco, have outposts in the metro area. Nation's Restaurant News wrote this about Thompson's comfort food and bowling hot spot:
Punch Bowl Social’s founder said the brand connects with Millenials who seek an energetic, playful atmosphere but aren’t willing to sacrifice food quality. Locations feature a full menu of updated comfort foods as well as a bowling alley, shuffleboard, retro video games, and private karaoke rooms. Six new locations will open in the next 21 months, including two in Chicago, one in Cleveland and a second location in Denver.
And nothing's hotter in the food industry right now than ramen. Denver has lagged behind many other cities with larger Japanese populations until recently, but even with several new ramen joints in the city, supply can't keep up with demand — as evidenced by the long lines outside Aurora's new Katsu Ramen. USA Today singled out Uncle, though, in its recent list — 10Best: Restaurants to Slurp Savory Ramen — which also includes acclaimed Japanese eateries Morimoto in Philadelphia and Tsujita Artisan Noodle in Los Angeles. In the article, BlackboardEats editor in chief Maggie Nemser singles out Uncle for its five broth bases that can be augmented with "umami bombs" — seven-pepper spice or bacon jam with miso. "They're giving you a way to take a traditional dish and take it to another playful place," she writes.
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