February 3, 2023

Disclosure: Employees of Hearst Newspapers, including Chron and the Houston Chronicle, were or are currently involved with the James Beard Foundation, but the author of this article is not.

A total of 10 Houston restaurants were named semifinalists at the 2023 James Beard Foundation Awards. Known as the “Oscars of the Food World,” the awards recognize America’s finest in culinary excellence through their Restaurant & Chef, Media and Leadership Awards.

Houston performed well in the national Restaurant & Chef categories, receiving six nominations in six of the 10 awards. Xin Chào’s Christina Ha and Tony J. Nguyen, who were nominated for last year’s Best Chef: Texas, will now compete nationally for Outstanding Chef. Lucille’s Hospitality’s Chris Williams, who was a finalist for Outstanding Restaurateur last year, made the semi-finalist list again for the same category.

Chef Chris Williams (center) serves West African rice at the 2022 Southern Smoke Festival.

Chef Chris Williams (center) serves West African rice at the 2022 Southern Smoke Festival.

Emma Balter

Other Houston semi-finalists in the statewide categories include Tatemó for Best New Restaurant, Nancy’s Hustle for Outstanding Wine and Beverage Program, Theodore Rex for Outstanding Hospitality, and Victoria Elizondo of Cochinita & Co for Up-and-coming Chef.

Of the 20 regional Best Chef: Texas Award semi-finalists, four are in Houston: Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, Kiran Verma of Kiran’s, Ai Le of Nam Giao and Benchawan Jabthong Painter of Street to Kitchen.

Emmanuel Chavez and Megan Maul have grown Tatemó from a tortilla maker to an upscale restaurant.

Emmanuel Chavez and Megan Maul have grown Tatemó from a tortilla maker to an upscale restaurant.

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Being considered for a James Beard Award is an honor as restaurants and chefs are held in high esteem by guests and the industry alike. Today the list of semi-finalists was released, while finalists – also known as nominees – will be announced in the spring, with winners being announced at the awards ceremony in Chicago in June.

Chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter in the drive-through window of her East End Thai restaurant Street to Kitchen.

Chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter in the drive-through window of her East End Thai restaurant Street to Kitchen.

Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Houston gained recognition in 2022 when Alba Huerta’s Julep cocktail bar was named an Outstanding Bar Program, the only Houston establishment to have won a James Beard Award in the past year. In years past, Houston chefs won Best Chef: Southwest awards before Texas became a region in its own right. Chef Hugo Ortego won the award in 2017, Justin Yu in 2016, and Chris Shepherd in 2014. Last year, alongside Christine Ha and Tony J. Nguyen of Xin Chào, Quy Hoang of Blood Bros. BBQ also received a nomination for Best Chef: Texas, but lost in the final round.

It’s a big year for Texas in general in 2023. A total of 11 semifinalists are in Dallas-Fort Worth, seven in San Antonio and six in Austin, plus a few in the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas and Far West Texas.

Chef Kiran Verma is at the forefront of fine Indian cuisine in Houston.

Chef Kiran Verma is at the forefront of fine Indian cuisine in Houston.

Melissa Phillip, Contributor / Houston Chronicle

The James Beard Awards were canceled in 2020, with initial claims the decision was made because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Behind the scenes, the foundation faced controversy after noting that no black chefs had won at the Restaurant & Chef Awards, while those who received nominations faced misconduct allegations such as bullying and sexual harassment.

A 2021 review and revision of the guidelines focused on creating a more inclusive and fair procurement process. This included having more diverse judges, informing restaurants across the country how to apply for the awards, and increasing the transparency of the process. The 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards were the first to be presented under these new guidelines after a hiatus in 2020 and 2021.



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