The James Beard Awards, often heralded as the "Oscars of the culinary world," have unveiled their 2024 semifinalists, casting a bright spotlight on Texas. The Lone Star State, renowned for its bold flavors and innovative dining scene, is again making a substantial mark, as reflected by this year's 39 semifinalists.
The prestigious awards are organized by the James Beard Foundation, "a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America's food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability."
Until 2020, Texas chefs were grouped with semifinalists from several other states in the Best Chef: Southwest category. However, given the state's sizeable geography, population, and diverse culture, the James Beard Foundation smartly carved out a separate category.
As a result, a much wider net is cast come award nomination time. This year, 20 of the state's 39 semifinalists were in the Best Chefs: Texas category.
The nominees (finalists) in each category will be announced on April 3, 2024, and the winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Chicago on June 10, 2024. You can read about the selection process on the JBF website.
David Kirkland and Ernest Servantes of Burnt Bean Co. in Seguin, Texas, are semifinalists for the Outstanding Chef award. It's always exciting to see Texas BBQ on the big stage, and having eaten at Burnt Bean Co. last fall, I can think of no better place in the state to make the list.
David Uygur of Lucia, an Italian restaurant in Dallas, is the other Texas semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category, which includes chefs nationwide and Puerto Rico.
This is another national category, so the competition is stiff. While I've yet to dine at any of these three restaurants in Texas, they've all been on my list.
The only place I've dined at from this category's semifinalists is The Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle.
In the Emerging Chef category, the sole semifinalist from Texas is Ope Amosu of ChopnBlọk, a popular West African spot in downtown Houston's POST Market food hall.
The Houston Chronicle reported that chef Ope Amosu will open a brick-and-mortar location in 2024. I look forward to trying the food in either place.
Best New Restaurant
Three Texas restaurants are semifinalists for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant:
- Barbs-B-Q in Lockhart - I'm so happy to see this female-owned and led barbecue joint make the list in its first year. Lockhart is about 35 miles south of Austin.
- Ramen Del Barrio in Austin - Located in the Hana World Market in North Austin, this tiny ramen spot was Austin Chronicle's pick for the best new restaurant of 2023.
- Jūn in Houston - This New American restaurant was well-reviewed in the Houston Chronicle and Robb Report last year. I'm excited to try it.
Now, on to one of my favorite categories: baked goods!
Texas is represented well with two semifinalists for Outstanding Bakery:
- Koffeteria in downtown Houston is the first Cambodian-inspired bakery to receive a James Beard Award nomination.
- La Casita Bakeshop in Richardson, north of Dallas.
Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker
Two individual bakers were recognized for their efforts:
- Mariela Camacho of Comadre Panaderia works behind a previous James Beard Award-winning chef, Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria, in East Austin.
- Stephanie Velasquez of Ema HTX in Houston.
Best Chef: Texas
As I mentioned, 20 chefs across Texas were named semifinalists for the 2024 James Beard Awards. Here are some of the names that jumped out at me.
Tavel Bristol-Joseph runs Canje, a Caribbean restaurant in East Austin. I had the good fortune to eat dinner there on opening night. Chef Bristol-Joseph draws on his Guyanese roots for dishes like wild boar pepperpot and jerk chicken.
Alexandra Gates of Cochineal marks the second Marfa restaurant to make the list. That's impressive, given Marfa is a 6.5-hour drive west of Austin, with no nearby airport to save you time.
Like Convenience West, I didn't get to try Cochineal when I visited a few years ago because we were there early in the week when many shops and restaurants were closed. [Marfa is very much a weekend destination].
Andrew Ho, Andrew Samia, and Sean Wen of Curry Boys BBQ in San Antonio have again made the list. Their Brisket Smokeshow, combining smoked brisket with green curry and rice, was one of my best bites of 2023.
Chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel picked up a semifinalist nod, hot off of Birdie's in East Austin being named Food & Wine Restaurant of the Year.
Fermin Nunez of Suerte, also in East Austin, was recognized. Suerte's suadero tacos with brisket are some of the city's best.
Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman of Jose in Dallas was named a semifinalist. Jose was one of the first restaurants I dined at in Dallas, and I can still picture that lunch on their patio.
For the complete list of 2024 James Beard Award semifinalists, visit their website.
As the awards approach, the excitement is as palpable as the aroma of a slow-cooked brisket, making it clear that Texas isn't just participating in America's food culture—it's leading it.
Whether it's BBQ, modern Mexican, or inventive New American cuisine, Texas is a state to watch—and taste. For foodies and culinary adventurers, these nominations are more than just accolades; they're an invitation to explore and savor the rich flavors of the Lone Star State.