Two local chefs among this year’s James Beard nominees

Is there an echo in here?

Restaurant Eve's hopes the eighth time's the charm with this year's James Beard Award nomination. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Restaurant Eve's hopes the eighth time's the charm with this year's James Beard Award nomination. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Four of the five nominees for the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic are repeats from last year, including two who have been perennial runners-up: Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve (this marks his eighth consecutive  nomination) and Vikram Sunderam of Rasika/Rasika West End (his fourth nomination). The only chef who didn't carry over to this year's finalists is Johnny Monis of Komi, and there's a reason for that.

Monis won the category last year.

The other finalists for the Mid-Atlantic category this year include Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore and Brad Spence of Amis in Philadelphia (both repeats from last year) as well as Cindy Wolf of Charleston in Baltimore (twice a nominee and an inductee into the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America).

Armstrong says he was "cooking something" when he got the news about his latest  nod. Which isn't surprising. The chef resumed control of Restaurant Eve last fall when chef de cuisine Jeremy Hoffman left to start his own place. So was this year's Beard nomination more satisfying given that Armstrong is actively guiding Eve again?

His answer was surprising: "I would not have been surprised if I wasn't nominated," Armstrong said.

How so?

"Restaurants have their peaks and their valleys," the chef said. "I think we may have hit a valley during the early part of last year. But we're on the rise again."

Armstrong had relinquished control of Eve to spend more time with his children and to keep an eye on his restaurant group's other properties, including Eamonn's/A Dublin Chipper, Society Fair and Virtue Feed & Grain (which Armstrong severed ties with last year). But as Eve looks to celebrate its 10th anniversary in April, Armstrong said both he and the restaurant have regained their footing.

"That's a really long time for a restaurant," Armstrong said. "I'll be the first to admit that, over that 10 years, for a brief period I wasn't as much in love with it as I had been. . .I'm back in love with cooking and food again. I couldn't be happier."

With former Virtue chef Ryan Wheeler now working beside him as chef de cuisine at Eve, Armstrong said he plans to remain firmly in control of the restaurant from now on. "I kind of let go of creating the menu," he said. "I won't ever do that again."

On the journalism side, The Washington Post earned three Beard nominations: Tamar Haspel got one for digging deep into complicated subjects with her Unearthed column. Post staffer Monica Hesse received a nod in the humor category for her ode to Gwyneth Paltrow's latest cookbook. And Post staffer Eli Saslow earned the final nomination for his continued work covering food stamps in America.

Washingtonian also earned a nomination for food coverage in a generation interest publication.

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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