For 28 years, the James Beard Foundation Award has celebrated culinary experts around the country, and some of this year’s semifinalists were selected from New Orleans, out of more than 20,000 entries, for seven of 21 different categories. Entries begin in mid-October each year, and nominees are selected based on their achievements and distinction throughout their careers. The list of local nominees is as follows:
1. Best New Restaurant: Saffron NOLA
Head Chef Arvinder Vilkhu combined Indian and New Orleans-style cuisine together for a unique menu. Before the dishes catch your eyes, the architecture surely will, as the inside of the restaurant has cozy seating arrangements paired with chandeliers, mirrors, and artwork. Saffron NOLA restaurant had its grand opening for its permanent location on Magazine Street in August last year, but it’s been around as a once-a-week pop-up restaurant for over six years.
2. Outstanding Bar Program: Cure
This contemporary bar prides itself on being a therapeutic and refreshing place to socialize over beer, wine, or seasonal cocktails—hence the name. Cure has a daily happy hour, 40% off bottled wine on Thursdays, bar snacks and dessert, so there’s always a chance to find your remedy.
3. Outstanding Chef: Donald Link of Herbsaint
Louisiana native Chef Donald Link’s Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant on St. Charles Avenue is centered around French-Southern cuisine. The menu includes and an array of entrees from seafood to duck to lamb, with a hint of Cajun flare.
4. Outstanding Pastry Chef: Kelly Fields of Willa Jean
Chef Kelly Fields transitioned from fine-dining pastries to something more casual when she, Chef John Besh, and Chef Lisa White opened Willa Jean, a local bakery named after Fields’ grandmother. Kelly created “Yes Ma’am” in June 2017 as a way to interact with and mentor fellow women in the industry.
5. Outstanding Restaurateur: JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline
JoAnn Clevenger is big on hospitality, as her mission for her restaurant Upperline is based on “restoring” people’s moods with good comfort food and a relaxed environment. She’s well known for a lot, but one thing, in particular, is her famous fried green tomatoes. Guests tend to rave about Upperline’s menu and the eclectic vibe of the restaurant.
6. Outstanding Service: Brigsten’s
Here’s a creole restaurant with a menu that changes every day, but still incorporates a lot of fish and other seafood for many of its entrees. Chef Frank Brigsten and his wife co-own the restaurant, and keep a friendly staff that makes people feel at home.
7. Outstanding Wine Program: Bacchanal
As long as you’ve got good weather, you’ve got live music. Bacchanal is a two-story wine lab in the Ninth Ward open daily, with a courtyard, food, original cocktails, live jazz and an extensive international wine list.
Finalists for each category will be selected on March 14 in Philadelphia, and the winners will be announced first at the Media Awards in NYC on April 27and again at the James Beard Foundation Award Gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 7. Tickets can be purchased at jamesbeard.org/awards, beginning March 21.