Two days ago, the James Beard Foundation released its list of restaurant and chef semifinalists for 2015, naming hundreds of outstanding chefs, bakers, beverage professionals, and restaurants around the country.
When I was a newspaper food writer, the mid-winter announcement always had us scrambling to write a quick online story about nominees in our area. Later, though, I used the list a tool for discovery — both an inspiration for road trips as well as a way to feed myself in new locales.
It’s led me to memorable food and drink at the Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama (poached red snapper jowl with preserved lemon); The Violet Hour in Chicago and The Dead Rabbit in New York City (transcendent cocktails); Betony in New York City (all-around excellence); and Coppa in Boston, among others. After this year’s announcement, I’m kicking myself for still not having eaten at Parachute in Chicago, which has been a down-low foodie favorite for months and was just nominated for Best New Restaurant in the United States — which might make seats in the tiny eatery harder to score.
Basically, the #jbfa list is a brilliant way to map out what’s new, hot, and excellent in cities all over the country. Big ‘burgs such as New York, Seattle, and Chicago are heavily represented — but scanning the list tips you off that Birmingham, Kansas City, and even Arkansas are brimming with tasty eats. That Cambridge, Massachusetts is eclipsing Boston when it comes to food, and northern Virginia is stealing culinary bluster from D.C. That The Rusty Spoon in Orlando has a talented chef behind the stick (Kathleen Blake).
In a few weeks, the James Beard Foundation list will be whittled down to finalists, and after that, winners. So bookmark it or print it out while it’s still in its long, raw, colorful form —the full list is here. Bon appétit.