The semifinals process begins with an online open call for entries. This year, more than 20,000 entries were received. The list is then whittled down by a volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from across the country composed of restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past James Beard winners.
Winning or even being nominated for a James Beard Award — considered the Oscars of the culinary industry — could mean extreme career growth for a chef, restaurateur, or bar professional.
Eight South Florida culinary professionals and restaurants made the first cut, with four chefs vying for the Best Chef: South award.
Zak Stern of Wynwood's Zak the Baker was once again nominated for Outstanding Baker. He was nominated last year in the same category.
Palme d'Or at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was nominated for Outstanding Service. The restaurant was previously nominated in 2009 for Outstanding Wine Service, Outstanding Service, and Best Chef: South for its former executive chef Philippe Ruiz, who left in 2011.
Miami Beach icon the Forge has been nominated for Outstanding Wine Service. The restaurant's famed eight-room wine cellar holds more than 300,000 vintages and is considered one of the finest collections in the world.
After recently returning to Miami to open the now-closed Sarsaparilla Club at the Shelborne Beach Resort, chef Janine Booth has already opened her followup with chef Jeff McInnis, Stiltsville Fish Bar, to plenty of fanfare. The James Beard Foundation has rewarded Booth with a nomination of Rising Star Chef of the Year, which is given to a chef aged 30 or younger.
Finally, four South Florida chefs made the cut for Best Chef: South. Brad Kilgore of Alter in Wynwood and Clay Conley of Buccan in Palm Beach are veterans in this category and are joined by newcomers Niven Patel of Ghee Indian Kitchen and Lindsay Autry of the Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach.
The last time a Miami-based chef advanced to the finals was 2013, when Hedy Goldsmith and Jeff McInnis made the grade. That year, South Beach's Juvia won a Beard for Outstanding Restaurant Design.
The finalists will be announced Wednesday, March 14, during a news conference at Parc in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m. The event will be live-tweeted at twitter.com/beardfoundation.
Winners will be announced Monday, May 7, at the James Beard Foundation annual awards gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.