Best of the best

3 San Antonio chefs named among James Beard semifinalists

3 San Antonio chefs named among James Beard semifinalists

Mixtli chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres
Rico Torres and Diego Galicia were named James Beard Awards semifinalists for Mixtli. Photo by Josh Zapata at Design Film Firm

Music fans have the Grammys, movie buffs have the Oscars, but for people who obsess about everything food and drink, there is no greater honor than the James Beard Awards.

On February 15, the organization announced the 2018 class of semifinalists, the first step in the process to winning the award. On March 14, the list will be narrowed down to five finalists per category, with the winners being announced at a lavish gala in Chicago on May 7.

Three San Antonians made the list for Best Chef: Southwest. Steve McHugh is no stranger to the James Beard Awards, having made the finalist list for Pearl eatery Cured in both 2016 and 2017. Joining him are Diego Galicia and Rico Torres, the two chefs behind progressive Mexican restaurant Mixtli. This is the first semifinalist recognition for both Galicia and Torres.

Texans dominated the Best Chef: Southwest list with Austin’s Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye), Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie), and Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine); Pearland’s Ronnie Killen (Killen’s Steakhouse); Houston’s Anita Jaisinghani (Pondicheri), Ross Coleman and James Haywood (Kitchen 713), Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles, and Ryan Pera (Coltivare); Dallas’ Regino Rojas (Revolver Taco Lounge); and Lexington’s Norma Francis “Tootsie” Tomanetz (Snow’s BBQ) all named.

As Texas Monthly notes, the naming of Tomanetz, Nguyen, and Rojas was a surprise. All three helm eateries that are a departure from upscale restaurants typically named.

The other Texas nominees were all centered in Houston and Austin. Houston semifinalists include Anvil Bar & refuge for Outstanding Bar Program, Jillian Bartolome (Aqui) for Outstanding Pastry Chef, Martha De Leon (Pax Americana) for Rising Star Chef of the Year, and two kudos for Hugo’s: Outstanding Service and owner Tracy Vaught for Outstanding Restaurateur.

In Austin, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya for Best New Restaurant, Jeffrey Stuffings for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional, and Laura Sawicki for Outstanding Pastry Chef were also on the list.