5 St. Louis chefs earn James Beard Foundation semifinalist honors
The James Beard Foundation announced its 2017 restaurant and chef award semifinalists today, Feb. 15. St. Louis’s recent run of recognition from the foundation continues, as five St. Louis chefs earned nominations for the esteemed culinary awards.
Pastaria executive chef Ashley Shelton was named a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year. This award recognizes "a chef age 30 or younger who displays impressive talent and is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come."
“It’s pretty much every chef’s dream come true to be recognized in that way,” Shelton said.
The JBFA nod is the latest in a growing list of recognition for Shelton. She is a member of the Sauce Ones to Watch Class of 2016, and Eater named her a Young Gun of 2016. Shelton said the honors validate her leadership style in the kitchen. “For me, it keeps pushing me and telling that the path I’m on is the right path,” she said. “We’re trying to do something different in our restaurants – not screaming and yelling.”
Pastaria owner Gerard Craft, who won Best Chef: Midwest in 2015, said Shelton’s culinary future is bright, and not just because she’s a talented cook.
“Being a chef is being a chief. It’s being a leader. It’s one of the hardest parts of the job,” Craft said. “For somebody her age to lead a team the size that she leads and operation the size that she leads, I can’t imagine anybody doing it better. What she’s going to do in the future is sure to be amazing.”
JBF also named four area chefs as semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest region: Olive & Oak executive chef Jesse Mendica, Público chef-owner Mike Randolph, Sidney Street Cafe chef-owner Kevin Nashan and Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann. This category acknowledges “chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions.”
This is the first Beard Foundation honor for Mendica. Neither she nor Olive & Oak owner Mark Hinkle could immediately be reached for comment
“Going into last year I had put so much emphasis on the restaurant getting the Best New nomination because I felt like that was kind of a loftier goal, to be honest,” Randolph said, crediting his team with the restaurant's success. “But that being said, I look at this list – these are people that I admire and that I respect. Any time you get a chance to see your name thrown in that hat, it’s humbling. It makes me want to work harder – and go in and hug everyone at Público.”
Nashan and Willmann are no strangers to this prestigious honor. Willmann earned his first finalist nod last year. “It’s always an honor and always exciting, especially for the crew,” he said. “They go so hard to keep our standards up.”
Nashan has twice made it to the finalist round of this category. “It’s awesome and amazing,” he said. “I literally just found out. It’s an honor any time you’re mentioned — it's just great to be on the bus."
Finalists will be announced March 15, and the winners will be named May 1 in Chicago. A full list of the winners is available online.
Editor's note: This post was updated Wednesday, Feb. 15 at noon to add comments from Kevin Willmann.
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