Jun 6, 2023 - World

Puerto Rican woman makes history win James Beard victory

two photos side by side, on the left is Natalia Vallejo of Cocina Al Fondo and on the right, Marissa Gencarelli of Yoli Tortilleria in Kansas City

Left: Natalia Vallejo of Cocina Al Fondo, who won Best Chef: South. Right: Marissa Tapia Gencarelli, co-owner of Yoli Tortilleria, which won outstanding bakery. Photos: Monica Eng/Axios

Two Latinas are among the diverse range of winners of this year's James Beard awards.

Details: At least 17 Latinos were nominated for what are known as the Oscars of the culinary world. The ceremony was held Monday night in Chicago.

  • Natalia Vallejo of Cocina Al Fondo, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, won the Best Chef: South award. The category includes the island, along with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
  • Yoli Tortilleria, based in Kansas City, Missouri, and co-owned by Mexico native Marissa Tapia Gencarelli, won the Outstanding Bakery award.

What they're saying: "It's an honor for me to be here representing Puerto Rico, the culinary identity of my nation and Puerto Rican women," Vallejo said during her acceptance speech, in Spanish.

  • "I see this award as vindicating the work of women in kitchens, because beyond being a chef I consider myself part of a tradition of cooks, women who face the fire: mothers, aunts, grandmothers who made dishes from intuition, tradition, memory and affection."
  • Vallejo is the first Puerto Rican woman nominee in the awards' history.
  • Tapia Gencarelli said, "Thank you for helping us honor the humble tortilla."

The big picture: This year's ceremony is the first since the James Beard foundation underwent an audit and made changes to its nomination process, after criticisms that it was not inclusive of people of color.

  • But the foundation is not yet free of controversy. Last week, it was embroiled in a debate over reports that its new ethics investigations on nominated chefs have lacked transparency and due process.

Axios' Monica Eng contributed to this report.

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