The James Beard Foundation has announced the semifinalists in its annual awards given to chefs and restaurants across the country, widely regarded as the Oscars of the restaurant and beverage industry. Texans did well on the whole, with 20 nominees in 9 categories, although a few outstanding names were conspicuous by their absence. Also, bad timing kept others out of the running. Speaking personally, I was disappointed that my favorite new restaurant of the year—Congress, in Austin—was not eligible; it opened on Jan. 31, 2010, a day too early for the rules (the official deadline period was January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011). Five finalists in each category will be announced on March 19 and the winners on May 7 at the annual awards ceremony and gala reception at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. Check the Beard web site for more details and to buy tickets to the gala  (which ain’t cheap). Here are the Texas chefs and restaurants in the semifinals: BEST NEW RESTAURANT Pondicheri, Houston OUTSTANDING BAR PROGRAM Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston The Esquire Tavern, San Antonio OUTSTANDING CHEF Stephan Pyles,  Stephan Pyles, Dallas OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF Julieta V. Adauto, Orange Peel Pastries, Cakes & More, El Paso Philip Speer, Uchi, Austin OUTSTANDING RESTAURATEUR Nick Badovinus, Flavor Hook, Dallas Jason Dady, Jason Dady Restaurants, San Antonio OUTSTANDING SERVICE The French Room at the Adolphus Hotel, Dallas OUTSTANDING WINE PROGRAM Café on the Green at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, Irving RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine, Austin Grant Gordon, Tony’s, Houston BEST CHEF: SOUTHWEST Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks, San Antonio Bruno Davaillon, Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas Manabu Horiuchi, Kata Robata, Houston Anita Jaisinghani, Indika, Houston Maiya Keck, Maiya’s, Marfa Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston Paul Qui, Uchi, Austin Teiichi Sakurai, Tei-An, Dallas How the Restaurant and Chef Awards Work In case you’re interested, this is a direct quote from the press release sent out today announcing the semifinalists. “The James Beard Foundation holds an online open call for entries beginning in mid-October of each year.  This year, over 57,000 entries were received, nearly a 50 percent increase from the previous year and the most in the Awards’ history.  Independent accounting firm Lutz & Carr tabulates these entries for the Restaurant and Chef Committee.  Based on the results and eligibility requirements for each award, the committee then produces a nominating ballot that lists the semifinalists in each of the 20 Restaurant and Chef awards categories, some of which include Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Best Chef in ten different U.S. regions, Rising Star Chef of the Year, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, Outstanding Bar Program, and Best New Restaurant. “The list of semifinalist nominees is then sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 550 judges from across the country. This panel, which is comprised of leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past James Beard Foundation Award winners, votes on specific award categories to determine the final five nominees in each category.  The same judges then vote on these five nominees to select the winners.  The governing Awards Committee, board of trustees, and staff of the James Beard Foundation do not vote, and the results are kept confidential until the presentation of winners in May.”