5 Minnesota chefs make the cut as 2023 James Beard Award semifinalists

A Hmong man stands in front of a state fair booth
Chef Yia Vang stands in front of the Union Hmong Kitchen booth at the Minnesota State Fair. Vang is one of five Minnesota chefs that the James Beard Awards has announced as semifinalists for the annual awards.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Five Minnesota chefs were announced Wednesday to be among the semifinalists at the annual James Beard Awards, one of the industry’s most prestigious honors.  

Café Cerés chef Shawn McKenzie received the state’s only national nod. McKenzie co-founded the restaurant with two locations in Minneapolis. McKenzie is also the executive pastry chef at Rustica Bakery, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. 

Yia Vang, whose pop-up Hmong restaurant was profiled by MPR News, was nominated in the Best Chef, Midwest category. This represents two years in a row that Vang has been nominated; last year he was a semifinalist in both the Best Chef, Midwest and Best New Restaurant categories, the latter for his Union Hmong Kitchen. Vang was also a nominee for Best New Restaurant, the next step in the awards process. 

The awards are presented annually and date back to 1990. They were named for James Beard, a chef, author and pioneering creator of television cooking shows.  

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Announcements of nominees are scheduled for March 29, with winners awarded at a ceremony on June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Winners will receive a certificate and a medallion engraved with the insignia of the James Beard Foundation. 

Here are the Minnesota semifinalists, by category: 

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker 

  • Shawn McKenzie, Café Cerés, Minneapolis 

Best Chef: Midwest 

  • Ann Ahmed, Khâluna, Minneapolis 

  • Christina Nguyen, Hai Hai, Minneapolis 

  • Karyn Tomlinson, Myriel, St. Paul 

  • Yia Vang, Union Hmong Kitchen, Minneapolis