Long-time Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose recent restaurants brought her to national prominence, was named a finalist Tuesday for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northwest. It was the first time Erickson has been a finalist for the distinction; her fellow finalists in the category, who have all been nominated multiple times, are Ethan Stowell of Ethan Stowell Restaurants and Canlis chef Jason Franey, as well as Portland’s Naomi Pomeroy of Beast and Cathy Whims of Nostrana.
“It’s fun to be a part of a really great group of amazing, talented people,” Erickson said Tuesday. She plans to attend the ceremony in New York in May. “From what I hear from other people, it’s a great party, and whether you win or not it’s fun to see. It’s uncommon to get cooks in a room without working!”
She was also glad to see the list go “against many stereotypes this year” with a strong showing for female chefs.
Stowell, receiving the finalist nod for the fifth time, joked that he wasn’t surprised by the spot because “it seems like it’s kind of my thing.” But it’s an honor nonetheless, good for business as well as a “super nice” personal recognition.
In the national division of the prestigious awards, known as the Oscars of the food world, the Seattle area had been well represented among the semifinalists announced earlier this year. Only one chef and one restaurant, though, made it through the next cut: Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island was named for Rising Star Chef of the Year, a category that has given early recognition to superstars in years past. (Bobby Flay won the award in 1993 and David Chang in 2007, among other notables.) In Restaurant Design and Graphics, Westward was a finalist for restaurants with 75 seats and under.
Dana Cree of Blackbird in Chicago was among the national finalists for Best Pastry Chef; she was known for years in Seattle for her standout desserts at Poppy and other restaurants. (David Posey, Blackbird’s chef, was another finalist in the Rising Star division.)
In the cookbook awards, Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern of Vashon Island were finalists in the Focus on Health Division for Gluten-Free Girl Every Day (Houghton-Mifflin, $29.99.) Seattle-based Chefsteps.com was named in the video webcast awards for “Cook Smarter.” The Seattle Times won a spot as well, with Craig Welch honored in coverage of Food Politics, Policy and the Environment for “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn,” a piece examining the effects of ocean acidification that won the Edward J. Meeman Award for Environmental Reporting earlier this week.
The full list of finalists is online here. Winners will be announced in May in New York City.
NOTE: Rebekah Denn is one of the many local food writers who serve on the voting panel for the James Beard restaurant & chef awards.