Nine James Beard Award Finalists Named in D.C. Region, Most Nods in a Decade

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The James Beard Foundation named nine DC and Maryland restaurants and chefs as finalists for its prestigious culinary awards – the largest number of finalists from the region recognized in more than a decade.

Notably, two members of D.C. Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit were named finalists: Kevin Tien for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Susan Bae for Outstanding Pastry Chef/Baker.

The Beard Awards are among the highest national honors restaurateurs, chefs and restaurants can receive, honoring excellence in cooking, service, hospitality and business. The finalists were announced Wednesday morning at DC’s Waldorf Astoria hotel in what turned out to be an especially festive event for locals. There were more finalists from the region than many other highly regarded dining destinations, such as San Francisco, Seattle, or Manhattan and Brooklyn combined.

The region’s other nominees for best chefs are Tony Conte of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown, Maryland, and Harley Peet of Bas Rouge in Easton, Maryland. Moon Rabbit’s Tien was nominated for rising star chef of the year in 2018 and was a semi-finalist for best chef in 2019. The restaurant made local news for closing its Wharf location in May 2023 and reopening near Gallery Place in January.

Bae, Moon Rabbit’s pastry chef, says she was surprised to learn of her nomination, but she was also excited and hopes for the best at the final awards ceremony. which will take place in Chicago on June 8. “It is very hard work, not only on my part but also on my colleagues. We gave everything together and that is what projected us into this trajectory,” he said. in the ceremony. “I think my desserts are out of the ordinary: I incorporate a lot of savory elements. “It’s unique and I think it’s something everyone might want to experience.”

Michael Rafidi of Navy Yard’s cozy Middle Eastern restaurant Albi was named a finalist for the National Outstanding Chef award. Rafidi, who is also behind Yellow Cafe in Georgetown and Navy Yard, was a finalist in the 2023 Mid-Atlantic Best Chef category (Oyster Oyster’s Rob Rubba won the 2023 award for Outstanding Chef, so if Rafidi took take home the prize, those would be back-to-back victories for the District’s chefs).

Chef Masako Morishita of Adams Morgan’s Perry’s Japanese fusion restaurant earned a nomination in the emerging chef category, which recognizes a chef who, according to the Beard Foundation, “is likely to make a significant impact in the years to come.” Morishita has told The Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema that she prefers to be adventurous with her cooking, a trait she learned from her grandmother. Sietsema found that her dishes, including her heart-shaped okonomiyaki, have injected liveliness into Perry’s, which will celebrate 40 years in business in 2024.

The awards also recognized excellence in local spirits: Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan received a finalist nomination for its outstanding wine and beverage program, and Clavel Mezcaleria in Baltimore earned a nomination for outstanding bar. Both Clavel Mezcaleria and Tail Up Goat have been nominated several times in different categories, although this is Tail Up Goat’s first nomination for spirits, having previously been nominated for the work of its chefs. Owner and beverage director Bill Jensen attributes this year’s nomination to the restaurant’s commitment to finding what he calls “underrated” wines.

“We have been open for eight years and our wine program has evolved considerably during that time,” Jensen said. “(What sets us apart is) our willingness to take risks in lesser-known corners of the wine world and a passion for wine as an integral part of a life well lived. I am particularly proud of our wine pairings. There are many sommelier poop and poop pairings out there, but it’s one of the things we’re most proud of. I really feel that pairing with wine or without alcohol greatly increases the experience.”

On the business side of the table, Hollis Wells Silverman of Eastern Point Collective earned a nomination for Outstanding Restaurateur, honoring excellence in restaurant ownership and community building. Eastern Point Collective’s restaurants include Duck & the Peach and La Collina, Wells cocktail bar in Eastern Market and Méli in Adams Morgan.

Lindsey Ofcacek and Edward Lee of the Lee Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry, were also honored with the 2024 Humanitarian of the Year Award. Although their original restaurants are in Louisville, Lee is the culinary director of Succotash in Penn Quarter and National Harbor, and the Lee Initiative will open a nonprofit restaurant called M. Frances in the Union Market District later this year.

Fritz Hahn contributed to this report.

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