James Beard Awards 2017: Nina Compton Finalist, Miami Shut Out Again

Nina Compton is the last woman standing.
Nina Compton is the last woman standing.
Photo by Elsa Hahne
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The James Beard Foundation has released the finalists for its annual awards ceremony, and once again, South Florida was knocked off the map.

Winning a "Beard," the culinary world's answer to Hollywood's Academy Awards, is high praise, and chefs who win often find doors opening to them and their restaurants seeing an increase in business. Restaurant and chef nominees for the 27th-annual James Beard Awards are selected from a list of more than 24,000 online entries.

The Beard Award process is threefold, with semifinalists announced in February, finalists named in March, and winners celebrated May 1 at the annual awards gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

When the 2017 semifinalists were announced, Miami received several promising nods. Brad Kilgore (Alter and Brava) was named in the Rising Star Chef category. Other South Floridians named as semifinalists were Deme Lomas (Niu Kitchen), Clay Conley (Buccan in Palm Beach), and Nina Compton (Compère Lapin in New Orleans) for Best Chef: South. Zak the Baker's Zak Stern received a nod for Outstanding Baker, and Wynwood's Kyu was up for Best New Restaurant.

When the finalists were announced yesterday, not one current South Floridian was left standing.

Compton, however, is a finalist in the Best Chef: South category for her NOLA eatery. In addition, restaurateur Stephen Starr is a finalist in the Best Restaurateur category. Even though Starr has establishments in Miami Beach (Upland, the Continental, Le Zoo, and others), the Beards name only his home base of Philadelphia.

The same thing happened last year, when talented toques such as Kilgore, Lomas, Jose Mendin (Pubbelly), Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House), Michael Pirolo (Macchialina), and Antonio Bachour (Bachour Bakery + Bistro) were snubbed.

In years past, Miamians such as Michelle Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, and Norman Van Aken have brought home Beards, but the last time a Miamian advanced to the finals was 2013, when Hedy Goldsmith and Jeff McInnis made the grade.

So why does the Magic City keep getting shut out? And did it take moving to New Orleans, a city steeped in hundreds of years of food culture, for Compton to achieve her nod?

There's no easy answer. In some ways, Miami is still a fledgling culinary city. But year after year, it grows. And just like last year, the argument can't be made that only restaurants in Chicago, New York, Charleston, and New Orleans make the grade. After all, establishments and chefs from Milwaukee, Asheville, and Providence were recognized.

The best answer is for Miami's culinary talent to push on and continue to make beautiful food. Locals know what these chefs can do. Let's hope the Beard Foundation's judges will catch on in 2018.

The full list of James Beard Award finalists for 2017 can be found at jamesbeard.org.

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