Jun 7, 2023 - Food and Drink

Texas snags many James Beard Awards nominations, only one win

A photo of a chef receiving an award at the James Beard Award ceremony

Benchawan Jabthong Painter, right, of Street to Kitchen in Houston, won Best Chef: Texas at the 2023 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards. Photo: Jeff Schear/Getty Images for the James Beard Foundation

Texas restaurants and bars ultimately didn't win any national James Beard Awards despite having the most finalists in the national categories of any state.

Why it matters: The James Beard Foundation's Chef and Restaurant Awards are the Oscars of American cuisine, but the awards have long struggled with inclusivity and diversity of finalists and winners.

  • The awards have historically recognized mostly white chefs in major cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City. The ceremony was on hiatus in 2020 and 2021 amid the pandemic and public scrutiny about the awards' practices.

Details: Texas had eight finalists in national categories. California had the second most with six.

  • Last year, Texas had four national finalists, up from just one national finalist for both 2018 and 2019.

State of play: The foundation expanded its regional awards in 2022 to give Texas, California and New York their own best chef categories.

  • The Texas best chef category has recognized smaller-town restaurants that otherwise might have gone unnoticed, including this year's finalists: El Paso chef Emiliano Marentes of Elemi and Seguin chefs Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland of Burnt Bean Co.

What they're saying: Servantes and Kirkland called themselves the "little guys."

  • "We don't have the media like Dallas does and the food writers of the big cities," Servantes told Axios. "We're here because of our hard work. We're here because we're changing the game so that small towns are getting noticed."

Flashback: Texas brought home two national awards last year — Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria in Austin won the emerging chef award, and Houston's Julep won the outstanding bar award, the city's first national James Beard.

  • The latest: This year's Best Chef: Texas award went to Street to Kitchen's chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter for her Houston Thai cuisine.

Zoom in: North Texas had six nominees, the most in years for the metro area. Two local bakeries — La Casita Bakeshop and Kuluntu Bakery — were finalists for the new national best bakery award.

  • Lucia, a longtime Dallas favorite, was a finalist for the national outstanding restaurant award. And Fort Worth's Don Artemio and Dallas' Restaurant Beatrice were finalists in the national best new restaurant category.
  • Reyna Duong of Sandwich Hag was a finalist for the state's best chef.

Of note: Many of the Texas finalists said they were pleased to have their communities and cultural cuisine recognized.

  • "I know a lot of people don't get to do this, and to be a first-generation hanging out with these big industry giants, it's an honor," La Casita Bakeshop's owner, Maricsa Trejo, told Axios.

The bottom line: The state's diverse culinary scene deserves national recognition. It's not all barbecue and tacos. Texas has authentic Thai restaurants, maíz tasting menus, bakeries with a mission and more.

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