Raleigh chef, Durham bar named James Beard semifinalists
- 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.
- Preeti Waas, chef of North Raleigh's Cheeni Indian Food Emporium, is a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast.
- And Durham cocktail bar Kingfisher is up for Outstanding Bar.
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.
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 — across from last year's Outstanding Bar nominee Alley Twenty-Six — 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" — 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.
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.
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