The James Beard Foundation sent out a press release today listing the semifinalists for the 2022 James Beard Awards, and some pretty illustrious Valley names and brands are represented, including perennial nominee Chris Bianco along with deserving first-timers Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Cuisine and Giovanni Scorzo of Andreoli Italian Grocer.
Overall, it’s broader and more diverse than ever before, not only in terms of the race and gender of the chefs and restaurateurs, but also geography and types of cuisine. There’s a reason for that.
As you may recall, the awards were scrapped in 2020 and 2021, first because of the pandemic and later because of a New York Times-fueled backlash within the organization as well as from chefs, cookbook authors and others related to the restaurant industry.
All claimed systemic inequity in the foundation’s own operations as well as in its voting procedures for industry awards. There’s a much longer and more detailed story here, but the bottom line is this: The foundation conducted an audit, established an ethics committee, broadened and diversified its roster of judges and aimed to be more far more inclusive in its selection of chefs and restaurants.
As a returning member of the foundation’s voting body, I was advised to watch videos related to bias regarding race, gender, culture, age (and maybe a few things I’ve forgotten) and how to recognize it. Most of it seemed painfully obvious to me, but some was good to think about. My point is, America’s most prestigious awards organization for the restaurant industry is making efforts to get it right.
Here are the Arizona chefs, restaurants and related food peeps who are now in the semifinals for a James Beard Award. Read the complete list here: jamesbeard.org/blog/the-2022-james-beard-award-semfinalists.
Outstanding Restaurateur: Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, Tratto — Phoenix)
Outstanding Chef: Chris Gross (Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion, Phoenix); Stephen Jones (the larder + the delta, Phoenix)
Outstanding Restaurant: ShinBay in Scottsdale
Emerging Chef: Rochelle Daniel (Atria, Flagstaff); Donald Hawk (Valentine, Phoenix)
Best New Restaurant: Bacanora in Phoenix
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Mark Chacon (Chacónne Patisserie, Phoenix)
Outstanding Baker: Don Guerra (Barrio Bread, Tucson)
Outstanding Hospitality: Binkley’s Restaurant in Phoenix
Outstanding Wine Program: Kai in Phoenix
Best Chef Southwest (includes Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma) Semifinalists:
- Lori Hashimoto (Hana Japanese Eatery, Phoenix)
- Maria Mazon (BOCA Tacos y Tequila, Tucson)
- Giovanni Scorzo (Andreoli Italian Grocer, Scottsdale)
For the most part, this list makes me happy. Bianco is an outstanding restaurateur, and he deserves recognition for being more than the pizza guy.
Gross back to work at his dazzling new place? Oh, hell yeah. One of the city’s best chefs for 30-some-odd years, now back at it without missing a beat.
I was first introduced to Stephen Jones at a wine dinner at Tarbell’s back in the day, and I remember being blown away by his food and thinking, “Who is this guy?” I love his sophisticated take on Southern cooking. The larder + the delta helps make us a better food town.
If I had the money, I’d eat at ShinBay once a month because Kurita’s food is so beautiful, delicious, perfect. Never precious, mind you, just intentional in the way that the Japanese are, and Americans will never be. (Does that comment violate JBF’s new sensibility standards, I wonder?)
Can’t wait to try Daniel’s Atria in Flagstaff. It’s on my to-do list. Meanwhile, I know already how much I love Hawk’s food and what a talent he is. Valentine is one of my favorite restaurants, and that’s in large part due to Donny.
I can’t say enough good things about ebullient Andrade or Bacanora either. It was my No. 1 pick for restaurant of the year because I love Andrade, and I love his food. All of it. But especially that octopus. My God.
Man, Chacon’s rise has been meteoric, but it’s well deserved. His IG posts make me want to drive Downtown for something sweet nearly every single day.
I had the good fortune to eat at Guerra’s Barrio Charro in Tucson last summer and fell in love with everything he bakes or makes – breads, empanadas, tlayuda. Another great, great talent.
As for the Best Chef Southwest category, naturally, I’m rooting for the home team, meaning Phoenix. I’m thrilled that Scorzo has finally been recognized after all these years (I felt the same way about Robertson of Rancho Pinot two years ago, and yes, she was robbed). And I’ve loved Hashimoto and the work she does at Hana for 14 years and counting. It’s my favorite hang-out-and-be-relaxed sushi bar and Japanese restaurant.
So modest is this girl that she won’t post about making the semifinals. When I called Hashimoto to see how she was taking the news, and if she had expected it, she said, “Never in a million years. Not in this lifetime. I look at everyone else in this category with such high regard that it’s hard for me to even think about it.” I like that.
I know Maria Mazon of BOCA in Tucson has been nominated before, and I must admit, I’m stunned. I visited there last summer on a Tucson Mexican food roundup I was doing and was not remotely impressed with the food, the dirty bar top or the sloppy, indifferent service – which begs the question: can inclusivity without discernment lead to mediocrity?
And here’s a bigger but related question: In what universe is Kevin Binkley ignored completely? After making semifinalist or finalist for Best Chef Southwest for, I don’t know, 10 years or more, he’s dropped from nominations entirely?
Binkley’s Restaurant made semifinalist in the hospitality category, and it’s well-deserved. The service is on point and ultra-professional but also incredibly warm and friendly – almost as if you’re eating at a friend’s house if that friend just happens to be a world-class chef. But my point is, the award feels like a sop for his being ignored in the Best Chef Southwest category.
This man is one of the best chefs in Phoenix. Period. I’ve never understood why that’s in question. I’ve heard all the snide little comments from people who think they know what’s what (one of them being a little snot from a national publication), but if you don’t recognize Kevin Binkley for what he is and what he’s done in this town, if you can’t appreciate his inspired, technically proficient cooking, if you can’t see how he’s grown and evolved, you really don’t know squat. He deserves that award as much as anyone else who’s ever gotten it or ever been nominated for it.
So let’s see how this all shakes out. Lots of talented people represented here, lots of evidence that Phoenix has become a bona-fide food town.