Jan 25, 2023 - Food and Drink

Raleigh chef, Durham bar named James Beard semifinalists

Cheeni Indian Food Emporium in North Raleigh. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

The Triangle did about as well as you could at last year's James Beard Awards, when Durham chef Ricky Moore won best chef of the Southeast for his Saltbox Seafood Joint.

  • This year, it will have two more chances to bring home honors from the Oscars of the American food scene.

Driving the news: The James Beard Foundation revealed the semifinalists for the 2023 awards Wednesday.

Why it matters: At a tough time for the entire restaurant industry, the nominations show that the Triangle's food scene garners national respect for what it produces.

Eating lunch at Cheeni. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

Zoom in: Preeti Waas' all-day Indian cafe Cheeni became one of the most distinctive dining spots in the local dining scene upon its opening last year.

  • Billed as more than just a restaurant, Cheeni operates as more of a gathering spot for the community, offering great Indian dishes as well as coffee, a retail selection of Indian artisans and a teaching kitchen where Waas and other chefs hold classes.

Opened in 2018 ā€” across from last year's Outstanding Bar nominee Alley Twenty-Six ā€” the Durham cocktail bar Kingfisher made a name for itself for building drinks you couldn't find anywhere else.

  • The bar's co-owner Sean Umstead heavily emphasizes seasonal ingredients from local farms in its concoctions. The result: some whacky combinations that end up melding perfectly in concert, such as current menu item "The Queen is Dead" ā€” a cocktail featuring butternut squash, bonded bourbon, sage tincture and an absinthe rinse.
  • Umstead, and the bar's other co-owner Michelle Vanderwalker, have also used the success of Kingfisher as a springboard to opening other downtown Durham projects like the neighborhood bar Queeny's and burger joint QueenBurger.
Cocktails from Kingfisher. Photo: Courtesy of Kingfisher

Flashback: The Triangle has had a good run at the James Beard Awards.

  • Prior to Moore's win for "Best Chef: Southeast" in 2022, Raleigh's Ashley Christensen won the award in 2014, Chapel Hill's Andrea Reusing in 2011 and Ben Barker in 2000 for his work at the now-closed Durham restaurant Magnolia Grill.
  • In 2019, Christensen also won the overall "Outstanding Chef."

Zoom out: Eleven restaurants were nominated across North Carolina for awards, including Greg Collier of Charlotte's Leah & Louise for Outstanding Chef.

  • Best New Restaurant nominees were: Heff's Burger Club in Winston-Salem and Neng Jr.'s in Asheville.
  • Outstanding Bar nominees were Kingfisher and Charlotte's Salud Cerveceria.
  • Best Chef: Southeast nominees from the state were: Preetie Waas, of Cheeni; Sam Hart, of Charlotte's Counter; Josiah McGaughey, of Asheville's Vivian; Dean Neff, chef at Wilmington's Seabird; Keith Rhodes, of Wilmington's Catch; and Stephanie Tyson, chef of Sweet Potatoes in Winston-Salem.

What's next: Finalists will be announced on March 29. The winners will be revealed at an awards ceremony in Chicago on June 5.

Click here for the full list of semifinalists

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