Seattle-area chefs and restaurateurs won spots in several national categories of the James Beard awards, traditionally known as the Oscars of the food world.
Two Seattle restaurants are among the 29 in the running for Best New Restaurant —Shanik in South Lake Union (a surprise pick to some), run by part of the same team behind Vij’s in Vancouver, B.C., and The Whale Wins in Fremont, the third venture from Renee Erickson of Boat Street Cafe and The Walrus and the Carpenter. (I walked into The Whale Wins at 5:40 p.m. on Sunday and there was already an hour-long wait for a table — and it really is that good. Don’t miss the sardines on toast.)
In other national categories, Canon was named a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program, Maria Hines is in the running for Outstanding Chef, William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau is on the list for Outstanding Pastry Chef (this is a category where I often feel Seattle gets shorted), Canlis for Outstanding Restaurant, John Howie of Seastar and John Howie Steak for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Cafe Juanita in Kirkland for Outstanding Service. Three Washington chefs are contenders for Rising Star Chef of the year — Chris Weber of the Herbfarm, Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, and one other talented guy whose name might be lesser-known for now — Mark Bodinet of Copperleaf Restaurant at Cedarbrook Lodge, an unlikely farm-to-table oasis near SeaTac Airport.
Washington state chefs have 7 of the 20 spots for the Best Chef: Northwest category — Oregon also has 7, with the remainder split between Montana (two), Idaho (two), Alaska (one) and Wyoming (one). The Washington candidates are Chris Ainsworth of Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen in Walla Walla, Renee Erickson of The Whale Wins, Jason Franey of Canlis, Nathan Lockwood of Altura, Ethan Stowell of Staple+Fancy, Jason Stratton of Spinasse, and Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule.
Finalists will be named March 18, and the awards will be given in May.
Photo of Meeru Dhalwala and diners at Shanik by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times