The semifinalists in the Olympics of food cred were announced Wednesday. Both Maine newcomers and the old guard made the storied James Beard Foundation awards list. Nominees will be announced March 24. Here is the short list:
Central Provisions on Fore Street in Portland will vie for best new restaurant in the nation. Open one year to the month, CP, helmed by chef Chris Gould, a Bethel boy, is a house on fire. A waiting list in the lean season? Yeah, they’ve got that. The small plates sensation competes with a strong crop of top spots from Bâtard in NYC to Maude in Beverly Hills.
A crudo’s throw from this culinary castle is Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a semifinalist for best bar program. Andrew Volk is getting numerous nods for his deftness with a jigger. (Note: it’s Allen’s Coffee Brandy month at the Market Street saloon. Tandem Coffee Bitters and Maine’s finest make for a happy hour indeed).
Around the corner, rustic royalty Fore Street makes the “outstanding restaurant” list this year. Chef-partner Sam Hayward took “best chef northeast” in 2004 which cemented Portland’s not-to-be-messed-with farm-to-table status.
Fore Street’s sister biz, Standard Baking Co. did not go unnoticed by the Beard brass. Dough pro Alison Pray is up for best baker in the country. Can the 20 year-old bread house rise to the occasion? Will we ever get a fresh baguette again if it does?
In the deja vu department Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan in Brunswick is shortlisted as a rising star this year. The 27- year-old, who is too legit to quit was in the same category last year. Cara we love you (and your dim sum) dearly, but what up Beard? We wonder if the House of James has ever been to Waldo County. Inland at all? North of Belfast?
Plus Stadler’s Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland is the new news this year. Note to Beard, her star has risen!!
At first we thought The Lost Kitchen chef Erin French, who resurfaced Phoenix like in a stunning spot in Freedom this summer was straight out snubbed in this category. Then we were informed she has to be under 30. Uhmpf! Look for a profile on this creative cook in March’s Food and Wine magazine. But I digress.
Best chef northeast is a three-way embarrassment of riches: Mr. Miyake (last year’s semi) will duke it out with Ravin Nakjaroen of Long Grain, in Camden. Yeah Midcoast! Ravin was also a 2014 consideration. Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of the ever-popular Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland make their James Beard debut. What a coup!
Another repeat run is Allagash’s Rob Tod, who returns to the semifinalist camp to compete with Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company (and many others) for outstanding beer professional. There are something like 60 breweries in Maine now, though Allagash is the daddy, an Oxbow, Bissell Brother’s or Banded Horn mention would show Beard was not drinking on the job.
Not to go all Kanye West on this list, but it would be also be great to see unsung heroes outside of Portland get a crack at fame; a break from the usual suspects. Though Melissa Kelly was put on pause this year, this list is not primo.
Any chefs you’d like to see nominated next year? Who was robbed? Who was overlooked? Best of luck to those who did.