Aaron Franklin did it. Last night the owner and pitmaster at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue became the first ever pitmaster recognized in any “best chef” category of the annual James Beard Foundation Awards. (See this earlier post for more on the significance of the win) For the title of best chef in the Southwest region, Franklin beat out Martin Rios of New Mexico, Kevin Binkley of Arizona, and fellow Texans Bryce Gilmore of Austin, and Houston’s Justin Yu and Hugo Ortega. Franklin’s fellow award winners tonight came from big name restaurants like Del Posto, Manresa, and Gramercy Tavern. He was certainly the only chef of the bunch whose plating requires a large tray and butcher paper.


Aaron and Stacy red carpet
Aaron and Stacy Franklin outside the event before the awards ceremony. Photo by David Hale Smith

In an acceptance speech that lasted less than thirty seconds he thanked his wife Stacy and “all the barbecue cooks before me and ones to come.” Despite his elevated status in the restaurant world and in the food media, Franklin was decidedly humble. He spoke as if he was accepting the award on behalf of all of Texas barbecue. “This award is so much bigger than me and so much bigger than our restaurant in Austin, Texas. It’s pretty huge for barbecue in general.” He reiterated those sentiments when we spoke after the awards. He let out a giddy “I can’t flipping believe this,” then reflected on what the award meant for him. “I don’t think it’s going to affect the restaurant much and I don’t think its going to affect me much career wise.” It’s not like the lines can get longer, but Franklin understood the message the award sent. “It is a monumental shift for the culinary world to recognize barbecue like this.” Adding that “I think it’s more about barbecue than me.” Maybe Franklin is just in the right place at the right time to benefit from barbecue’s undeniable popularity, but that doesn’t diminish the work he and Stacy Franklin put in to get here nor does it make this award an less unprecedented.


Aaron Franklin with medal
Aaron Franklin with some new hardware. Photo by David Hale Smith

I asked Franklin how he planned to celebrate the big win. I assumed a night on the town in Chicago, but he promised a more low-key affair. “We’re going to get a burger [a rather famous one at Au Cheval], maybe hit an after party, then go to bed.” After all, they need to get back to Austin tomorrow to cook some barbecue.