What started out as a great year for Dallas — and Texas — in the annual James Beard Foundation awards fizzled this morning when the list of final nominees was announced in Houston.
None of three Dallas semifinalists for national awards made the cut, and neither did the any of the Dallas semifinalists for best regional chef. Every Texas semifinalist was also eliminated for national awards in this round of voting.
Oddly, Texas dominated the best chef category for the southwest, with four out of the five spots on the ballot going to Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine, all in Austin, and Steve McHugh of Cured in San Antonio. Charlene Badman of FnB in Scottsdale, Arizona, rounded out the category.
The full list of nominees is here. Winners will be announced on May 6 at a gala in Chicago.
The Beard awards are the most coveted in the food world, but historically, Dallas and Texas have not had strong showings, even in years like this, when there were so many serious contenders across categories ranging from Best New Chef to Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer.
Going in, Dallas held six semifinalist spots among 27 semifinalists from Texas, the most in the state's history.
So what happened? Nominees are voted on by a panel of more than 600 judges from around the country, and cities such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, which are more traveled and get more national attention from the food press, are disproportionally recognized by voters, who must have eaten at a restaurant to vote for it. For example, every nominee in the Best New Restaurant category, the most prestigious award, is located in one of those cities: Angler in San Francisco, Atomix and Frenchette in New York City, and Bavel and Major Domo in Los Angeles.
This year, it looked as if Misti Norris had the momentum to beat the odds when her restaurant Petra and the Beast was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Norris was riding on a wave of accolades from local and national press, after opening Petra last spring as a pop-up in a 1930s gas station in East Dallas. She made every restaurant-of-the-year list in town in 2018, then picked up a nod from from Esquire magazine as one of the best new restaurants of the year and was the subject of a long feature in Food and Wine this month.
But in addition to the geography problem, Petra also faced stiff competition from Michelin-starred heavyweights such as Joshua Skenes at Angler and David Chang at Major Domo.
Other Dallas contenders knocked out of the running were Ricardo "Ricchi" Sanchez of Bullion for Best Pastry Chef, and the French Room for Best Service. The long list for Best Chef Southwest had recognized Bruno Davaillon of Bullion, Regino Rojas of Purepecha Room at Revolver Taco Lounge and David Uygur of Lucia and Macellaio.
Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars in Lubbock and Jeffrey Stuffings of Jester King Brewery were eliminated from the contenders for outstanding wine, spirits or beer producer.
It was a disappointing day, no doubt. But in the end, those of us who live here know first hand what a great moment this is to be eating and drinking in Dallas. And with new restaurants on the horizon from Stephan Pyles, Matt McCallister, Nick Badovinus and so many others, it only promises to get more exciting and more worthy of long-deserved recognition. Maybe next year, the Beard awards will even catch up with that. After all, they announced the nominees at Hugo's, chef Hugo Ortega's Beard-award winning restaurant in Houston.