The new class

San Antonio chef nabs 2019 James Beard semifinalist nomination

San Antonio chef nabs 2019 James Beard semifinalist nomination

Steve McHugh SA Cured
Steve McHugh is once again in the running to bring a James Beard Award home to San Antonio. Photo by Josh Huskin

Awards season may have ended in Hollywood, but for the American restaurant industry, it’s just getting started. On February 27, culinary nonprofit the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its prestigious awards — and San Antonio nabbed a prestigious spot on the list.

The semifinalist round is the first step in receiving one of the culinary world’s highest honors. On March 27, the foundation will announce the five finalists in each category at a press conference at Hugo’s in Houston before heading to the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 6 to celebrate the final winners.

For the fourth year in a row, Steve McHugh of the Pearl's Cured was named on the long list for Best Chef: Southwest. In each of those years, he made it as far as the finalist round but has never won the coveted award. McHugh was the sole semifinalist representing Alamo City. Mixtli chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres did not make a reappearance after being nominated in the same category in 2018.

Notably this year, the foundation enacted some changes to the policies governing the awards, an attempt to increase gender, race, and ethnic representation. Among them was an increase in diversity in the awards committees, greater transparency in the judging process, and a retiring of the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage program — an award bestowed only by past nominees that did not meet JBF’s new inclusion directives. 

Overall, Texas was well-represented in the announcement. The commitment to broader representation was most apparent in the Austin nominees where Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo and Maribel Rivero of El Chile Group’s Yuyo became the first Austin women to be included in the category, and only the third and fourth Austin women ever to be included in any of the chef categories since the award was founded in 1991.

The only two other Capital City women to have received a chef nod were Janina O’ Leary, a Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist for her work at Trace and Laura Sawicki of Launderette, receiving recognition in the Outstanding Pastry Chef field for the fifth time.

Besides the nods for Sawicki, de la Vega, and Rivero, Austin scored five other nods. Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, and James Beard favorite Bryce Gilmore — each previous semifinalists — made it to the Best: Chef Southwest list. Other honorees from Austin include Jeffrey Stuffings from Jester King, who repeated his 2018 success as an Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional semifinalist. Suerte added another feather in its cap as one of 30 restaurants considered for the Best New Restaurant title. Kyoten, the Chicago rework of chef Otto Pham’s former Austin concept, also appeared in that category.

Houston received 11 nominations, including Ronnie Killen (Killen's Steakhouse), Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles) and Kaiser Lashkari (Himalaya) for Best Chef: Southwest; Jonny Rhodes (Indigo) for Rising Star Chef of the Year; Chris Shepherd (Georgia James) for Outstanding Chef; and Tracy Vaught (H-Town Restaurant Group) for Outstanding Restaurateur. Also among the nominees were Anvil Bar & Refuge for Outstanding Bar Program, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse for Outstanding Wine Program, The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation for Outstanding Restaurant, and Tony’s and Hugo’s for Outstanding Service.

Dallas nabbed six spots — Regino Rojas (Purépecha Room), David Uygur (Lucia), and Bruno Davaillon (Bullion) for Best Chef: Southwest; Ricardo Sanchez (Bullion) for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Petra & the Beast for Best New Restaurant; and the French Room for Outstanding Service.

The only other Texas nominee was Lubbock's Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producers.