Appetites: 5 things you should know about the James Beard Awards

Piccolo chef Doug Flicker garnishes dishes with fresh herbs before they are served to customers Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, at his south Minneapolis restaurant. Flicker was nominated for a James Beard Award on Tuesday.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The James Beard Foundation Awards are known as the Oscars of the culinary world, to honor the country's most-talented food and beverage professionals.

This week, the foundation released its list of 2013 semifinalists, which contained a record 17 Minnesota restaurants and chefs.

Rachel Hutton, senior editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, told MPR's Tom Crann five things you should know about the awards — including the chances of a local nominee winning.

1. James Beard 'set the table' for Julia Child

James Beard was a chef and food writer who published several cookbooks and ran a culinary school in New York. He was a precursor to Julia Child — he had his own cooking show, too — and during the 1950s established himself as the face, or you might say the belly, of the American culinary world.

2. The nominees announced this week are just semifinalists

Typically, every February, the foundation releases a list of 20 semifinalists in each of the 20 awards categories. Then a panel of judges, which consists of all previous winners and food journalists from around the country, votes to narrow the list to 5 finalists, or "nominees." Then the judges vote one more time, and the winner of each award is announced at a fancy awards ceremony that takes place at Lincoln Center in New York in May.

List: Minnesota nominees
Archive: Butcher & the Boar opens in May 2012

3. Many of the Minnesota nominees are recognizable names

Butcher & the Boar was nominated for Best New Restaurant, the Marvel Bar for Outstanding Bar Program, Tim McKee of La Belle Vie for Outstanding Chef and Steve Horton from Rustica Bakery for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Also, Lucia's was nominated for outstanding restaurant, which speaks to the longtime legacy of this Minneapolis institution.

Kim Bartmann was nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur. Bartmann is the owner of Barbette, the Red Stag Supperclub, the Bread & Pickle concessions at Lake Harriet among other restaurants. She's been a real leader in terms of incorporating sustainability into her business model.

Bartmann was an early adopter of sourcing ingredients from local farms, but she's also been incorporating eco-friendly practices in other ways, such as composting food waste and installing waterless urinals in the restrooms at her restaurants.

4. 'The Indiana Jones of Lost Spirits' is based in Minnesota, and is a nominee

A delightfully surprising name to see nominated is Eric Seed, in the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional category. Seed runs Haus Alpenz, an importer of rare spirits, in Edina. While he's sort of under the radar around town, all the top bartenders around the country know him and refer to him as "the Indiana Jones of Lost Spirits."

Seed is a sort of "personal shopper" for craft bartenders. He tracks down unusual spirits that aren't distributed in the United States and then helps the distillers navigate our rather draconian regulatory and distribution system. For example, a rum-like spirit made in Indonesia called Batavia-Arrack, which was widely used in alcoholic punches -- a sort of precursor to American cocktails. It hadn't been available in the United States before Prohibition, until Seed brought it back a few years ago.

5. Our nominees have tough competition from larger markets

Nominees from smaller markets have a tough time competing against those in New York and San Francisco. But even though wins are unlikely, it's nice to get the recognition that a nomination brings.

PHOTOS: Piccolo restaurant draws accolades

The Best Chef awards are divided into 10 geographic regions, and in our category, Midwest, eight of the 20 restaurants represented are in the Twin Cities, including Steven Brown of Tilia, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, and Sameh Wadi of Saffron. Several of our local chefs have won Best Chef in recent years, so I think we have a good chance again this year.

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