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March 11, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Great honor, bad process? Seattleites on ‘Best New Chef’ list

McCracken Tough corner crop

Four Seattle-area chefs are in the running for Food & Wine magazine’s “People’s Best New Chef” award. The nominees are Brendan McGill of Hitchcock, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough of Spur (and various other ventures), and Chris Weber of The Herbfarm. We can count an honorary fifth one too, as Sheldon Simeon of Hawaii, who competed on Top Chef Seattle, is also among the 10 Northwest and Pacific finalists.

The 10 winners — one for each of 10 regions around the nation — will be selected by online votes, which can be submitted through March 18. You can vote here. To be eligible, chefs must have run their own kitchens for no more than five years.

I was taken aback when Food & Wine first announced this award (this is the third year), because I hate to risk a major honor devolving into a social media popularity contest. It’s true that the finalist selections, made by magazine editor Dana Cowin and her team, are as impeccable as they are in the magazine’s annual “Best New Chef” awards. (I’m especially glad to see a national nod to McGill, whose name is less well-known, but whose skill has made him a standout since his early 20s.) But putting them to an Internet vote takes some of the luster away for me. It can turn into a test of which nominees can (or want to) marshall Facebook friends and Twitter followers, or garner online media attention in their region, or have fans with multiple IP addresses for voting (the rules allow one vote per IP address, though they forbid votes “intended to disrupt” the process). An honor like this should only be about who cooks the best food, not potentially swayed by who has the most computer-savvy fans willing to click a button.

The finalists are all standout chefs, and I’d be glad to see any of them win. But I’d be happier if the editors had made that choice too.

What do you think? And who would get your vote?

Photo of Brian McCracken and Dana Tough by Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times

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