This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25.
Bread Furst's Mark Furstenberg and Toki Underground's Erik Bruner-Yang were nominated today for James Beard Awards in national categories, but locals were shut out of the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category for the first time in more than 20 years.
After being nominated in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category in 2005 and 2006, when he was running Bread Line on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Furstenberg was one of five nominees this year for Outstanding Baker, a debut Beard category. Bruner-Yang, the man behind Toki and the perpetually delayed Maketto on H Street NE, received his first nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year, in which he will compete with five of his peers, including Alex Bois from High Street on Market in Philadelphia.
Reached by phone this afternoon, Furstenberg was delighted with the nomination in the bakery category, even though he actively urged the foundation not to adopt it.
"I opposed it," he said. "I argued two times over 10 years. Once I wrote a letter directly to the jury, saying there should not be a bakery category because these are restaurant awards, not bakery awards. You should not give an award to bakery any more than you should give one to a grocery store. It makes no sense.”
After Furstenberg sold Bread Line in 2005, he thought he was done with bakeries. The hours were too long, the work too hard. But when his older sister, Carla Cohen, died in 2010, he realized he wanted to leave a legacy behind, just as she had. Cohen co-founded Politics and Prose on Connecticut Avenue NW. His Beard nomination will certainly help the 76-year-0ld baker create that legacy, but Furstenberg won't be satisfied until he can prove that a high-quality neighborhood bakery can be profitable in Washington, so that others will follow his lead.
"That's terribly important to me," Furstenberg says.
Bruner-Yang says he was surprised, and delighted, to receive a nomination for Rising Star Chef. At 30, he just squeaked into the category, which is limited to chefs age 30 and younger. More to the point, Bruner-Yang runs a small ramen shop, with a fairly set menu of soups, dumplings, noodles and buns. Personally, he's more impressed with Marjorie Meek-Bradley's work at Ripple, where she develops and executes larger seasonal menus. Back in February, Meek-Bradley was also a semifinalist for the Rising Star award before the category was whittled down to six nominees on Tuesday.
"I consider Marjorie on another level than me," Bruner-Yang says Wednesday morning. "But I don't want to discount the work our team does every day." Since Toki opened in April 2011, Bruner-Yang and his team have worked hard to perfect their offerings at the ramen shop. He buys local vegetables in season as well as local meats via D'Artagnan. His non-alkaline noodles are made in Springfield, Va.
"I guarantee no ramen shops are buying their meat from D'Artagnan," the chef says, with a laugh. "It's nice for an Asian restaurant doing stuff on a small scale to get recognized."
The nomination is particularly bittersweet for Bruner-Yang. Thang Le, a Toki chef and an early mentor to Bruner-Yang, committed suicide in 2012. "Thang definitely pushed us," the chef recalls. "He wanted us to be bigger than we thought we could be. . .That was one of his life goals: That we could participate in something that we'd get nominated for a Beard."
Speaking of following the lead — or not — the Beard Foundation didn't swallow the hype around Rose's Luxury. After earning best new restaurant nods from Bon Appetit and others, chef Aaron Silverman's seriously playful establishment on Capitol Hill was shut-out of the same category in the Beard Awards.
D.C. toques didn't fare so well in this year's Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category. None were nominated for the award, ending a run that dates back to at least 1994, when Patrick Clark from the Hay-Adams Hotel won the division. The run could stretch back even further, but the Beard Award database only returned the winner from the 1993 contest, not the full list of nominees.
The nominees in this year's Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic include Spike Gjerde from Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, his third straight nod. Cindy Wolf of Charleston restaurant in Baltimore also earned a nomination in the category, along three chefs from Philadelphia.
Some chefs and restaurateurs with a presence in Washington — or soon to have a presence in Washington — also received nominations from the foundation. Philadelphia's Stephen Starr, the force of nature behind Le Diplomate on 14th Street NW, earned a nod in the Outstanding Restaurateur category as did the San Francisco-based Michael Mina, who operates Bourbon Steak in Georgetown.
Springfield native Christina Tosi, creator of the Momofuku Milk Bar, which will debut this year at CityCenter DC., was a nominee in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category. Likewise, Edward Lee, the guy behind 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., was nominated in the Best Chef: Southeast category. Lee plans to open Succotash, a Southern-themed restaurant at National Harbor, sometime in May.
In the journalism category, several Washington Post Food columnists earned James Beard Award nods: Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan (full disclosure: I'm her proud husband) earned her first nomination in the Wine, Spirits and Other Beverages category for her look at the New Orleans cocktail scene; Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel earned her second nod in the Food-Related Columns category for her deeply researched reports on America's thorniest agricultural and environmental issues; and Everyday Dorie columnist Dorie Greenspan earned a nomination in the Baking and Dessert category for her cookbook, "Baking Chez Moi."
Congratulations to all the nominees. The journalism winner will be announced April 24 in New York City, while the chef and restaurant awards will be passed out on May 4 in Chicago.
The complete list of James Beard Foundation Award nominees can be found here.
Correction: The original post noted that Beard Foundation judges opted not to nominate Rose's Luxury in the Best New Restaurant category. In fact, chef Aaron Silverman's restaurant wasn't eligible for the award. Restaurants had to open in the 2014 calendar year to qualify. Rose's opened in October 2013.