Houston should be high-fiving itself about now.
The prestigious James Beard Foundation announced Tuesday that Houston will be the site of a press conference announcing the short list of nominees for the James Beard Awards, on March 27. The selection of Houston is a sign of the growing presence of Texas on the national food scene in the past two decades. Since 2000, six Texas chefs have been named winners in the Southwest regional chef category, three from Houston (Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Justin Yu of Oxheart, and Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s) and three from Austin (Tyson Cole of Uchi, Paul Qui of Qui, and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue). Dallas has had significant semifinalists and nominees, but no winners, in that time period.
The co-hosts of the event in Houston will be Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach. Nominees for more than fifty categories in the oft-described Oscars of the restaurant industry will be announced on March 27, including the year’s best chef, best restaurant, and rising star. The event, which is open only to the media, will take place at 9 a.m. at Hugo’s and will also be streamed live online.
It’s been a good week for the Houston food scene, which dominated Texas Monthly‘s annual Best New Restaurants list, published Tuesday. Shepherd’s three new restaurants all claimed the top spot. Last year, Ortega’s Xochi came in at number one, and Yu’s Theodore Rex was number six.
Before the Houston announcement, the foundation on February 27 will first reveal the longer but also coveted list of this year’s semifinalists. The ultimate winners will be awarded at the annual awards gala at the Chicago Lyric Opera, on May 6.
Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals and achievement in a broad range of categories, not just chefs. Awards are given for the nation’s best restaurant, new restaurant, restaurateur, baker, pastry chef, bar program, wine program, service, and design (among others), and for outstanding chef in ten regions of the country.
Although the press conference is not open to the public, those who wish to be part of the festivities may purchase tickets to attend a benefit dinner the night before at Caracol (whose chef is also Hugo Ortega). Featured chefs at that dinner will include the three aforementioned Houston-based winners of the James Beard Award Southwest as well as 1992 Southwest winner Robert Del Grande; past America’s Classic winner Irma Galvan; and semifinalists Terrence Gallivan, Seth Siegel-Gardner, Bobby Heugel, and Anita Jaisinghani. Tickets are available here. The press release with full information is here.