The year started well enough, with several Miami chefs and one restaurant recognized by the New York-based foundation that celebrates excellence in the culinary arts. The organization announces a battery of semifinalists for its prestigious awards, then whittles down the list before the gala ceremony at Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 2.
Finalists in the Outstanding Chef category include Sean Brock (Husk in Nashville), Suzanne Goin (Lucques in Los Angeles), Donald Link (Herbsaint in New Orleans), Michael Tusk (Quince in San Francisco), and
Michael Solomonov (Zahav in Philadelphia). Other notable toques up for a Beard include Barbuto's Jonathan Waxman, 610 Magnolia's Edward Lee, and Animal's Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. All of these toques have one thing in common: None of them are from Miami.
Back in February 2016, Bradley Kilgore showed the most promise to take a Beard back to the Sunshine State. The chef was named a semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category and his Wynwood restaurant, Alter, was a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category.
Several Miami chefs were also in the running for Best Chef: South, including Jose Mendin (Pubbelly), Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House), Michael Pirolo (Macchialina), and Deme Lomas (Niu Kitchen). None of these fine chefs made yesterday's cut.
Even Antonio Bachour, whose pastries are small, edible works of art, did not advance in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category.
Only two professionals with Miami ties have survived the fierce competition, with San Francisco-based Michael Mina (Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina 74, and Stripsteak) and Philadelphia-based Stephen Starr (The Continental, Le Zoo, Makoto, and Steak 954) still in the running for Best Restaurateur.
The argument that Miami is still a fledgling food city isn't one that holds much water anymore. In years past, Miami toques have brought home Beards including Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, and Norman Van Aken. Miami chefs have also been in the running as finalists, with both Hedy Goldsmith and Jeff McInnis in the running in 2013.
You can't even say that a city like Miami can't win against food giants like New York and New Orleans. A cursory glance at the list of finalists shows restaurants located in such diverse locations as Birmingham, Alabama; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Boulder, Colorado.
So why has Miami been snubbed once again? Ask the independent panel of more than 600 judges comprised of regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past Beard recipients tasked to cull the list. Maybe Miami still has a stigma of having too varnished a veneer to have substance underneath all that shine and glitz. Or maybe the chefs shortlisted are simply more worthy — we won't know unless we travel the country and eat at every one of those establishments.
So, yet again, Miami chefs, bar professionals, and restaurateurs will go back to their kitchens and bars and get to work doing what they do best — turning out a well-made cocktail or a delicious dish. An award that prestigious is worth waiting for.
The full list of James Beard finalists for 2016 can be found at jamesbeard.org.