Three D.C. chefs nominated for James Beard Awards

March 18, 2013
Restaurant Eve's hopes the seventh time's the charm with this year's James Beard Award nomination. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Restaurant Eve's Cathal Armstrong hopes the seventh time's the charm with his latest Beard Award nomination. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Cathal Armstrong has many more nominations to go before he becomes the Susan Lucci of James Beard Foundation Awards, but the chef and proprietor behind Restaurant Eve just earned his seventh straight nod today in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category.

Armstrong is joined by two other D.C. chefs in the same category — Vikram Sunderam of Rasika/Rasika West End and Johnny Monis of Komi — as well as Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. The fifth finalist is Brad Spence, chef and owner of Amis, part of the Vetri Family restaurants in Philadelphia.

When reached by phone today, Armstrong wasn't even certain how many Beard nominations he had earned at this point. He thought it was only six, which rattled me enough to double check with the Beard Foundation site. (Sure enough, this is his seventh straight.) Regardless, Armstrong says each nomination feels the same as the first.

"I still love it," he says. "I don't know if it's ever anything I take for granted."

Still, Armstrong says he "would be lying" if he didn't acknowledge the sting of previous defeats at the Beard Awards in New York City. (And who can forget his wife's response after losing in 2011?)

"Of course, it's always disappointing to not win it," Armstrong notes. "Wylie Dufresne [the chef behind the inventive wd~50 in New York City] has been nominated for years and years and years. That's just the name of the game ... It's one of those things. I don't have control over those outcomes."

For those keeping score, Dufresne has been nominated eight times without a victory, which isn't even tops among D.C. chefs. Obelisk's Peter Pastan has been nominated nine times without taking home a medal, which he said offered him "some small measure of solace" in an e-mail today. (He was being flip, I believe.) And just to recall, Lucci was nominated 19 times before she finally nabbed a Daytime Emmy Award.

Armstrong, for one, does not hide his desire to ultimately win the award. "The primary thing about it, it says on the medal: The James Beard Award for Excellence. That's what we work for every day."

When reminded that he still has 12 more nominations to match Lucci's record, Armstrong said time wasn't on his side. "I'll be too old by then," the 43-year-old chef laughs.

Chefs weren't the only locals nominated today by the foundation. The recently relocated Minibar by Jose Andres was nominated in the Restaurant Design and Graphics category, along with another Andres property, Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Spanish designer/architect Juli Capella collaborated with the Georgetown-based architectural firm CORE on the new Minibar, while Capella consulted with the Rockwell Group at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Andres was traveling to Cambodia today, as part of his work with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The other local nominee today was Andy Myers, sommelier at CityZen, whose wine lists were one of five nominated in the Outstanding Wine Program category. CityZen chef Eric Ziebold says the nomination was a real honor, given the restaurant is approaching its ninth birthday.

"In today's age, that's ancient," Ziebold says. "It becomes easy to forget the rest of the world is looking at you."

As for Myers, he was a little hard to track down. Earlier in the day, the sommelier was on a bus headed to New Jersey to add a new Easter Island head tattoo to his already impressive display of body ink. When we finally caught up over the phone, he was freshly tatted and ready to talk about his nomination, which he had been pondering since he first heard the news this morning.

"I’ve been doing the same stuff, every single day," Myers says, almost rhetorically. "Why did they notice us now?"

Myers believes several factors account for the nomination: his stockpiling of older vintage wines, whether from Oregon or Italy or Bordeaux, France. He also thinks that some wine dinners, served family-style, have taken a little of the stuffiness out of the grape experience. But most of all, Myers thinks it's his long collaboration with Ziebold that sealed the deal.

"The menu and the wine list have become tighter knit," Myers says. "To me, there’s more of a conversation happening between Eric’s food and the wine list.”

On the journalism side, the Washington Post earned one nomination in the Health & Well-Being category with freelancer Aliza Green's story, "The gloves can come off, as far as I'm concerned." Locally, the Washingtonian Food & Drink section, edited by Todd Kliman and Ann Limpert, earned a nomination in the Food Coverage in a General Interest Publication.

Congratulations to all this year's local nominees. The James Beard Foundation Award ceremonies will be held May 3 and 6 in New York City.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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