“Now that I am officially considered the best baker in America, I find it embarrassing,” he added.
“Well, I think I’m a good baker, and I’m very proud of Bread Furst. What I’m proudest of at Bread Furst is not national recognition, but the incredible recognition of the neighborhood. I set out to do a neighborhood bakery, and it’s turned out wonderfully,” Furstenberg continued.
The Beard awards are among the most coveted honors in the industry. The restaurant and chef award winners — picked from five finalists in each category — are voted on by previous winners, panelists and members of a foundation subcommittee.
Past winners in the Outstanding Baker category include Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. This was Furstenberg's third year being nominated for his work at his Van Ness bakery. He'd also been a Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic nominee two times.
Washington was shut out of several major restaurant categories. Aaron Silverman's prix fixe Pineapple and Pearls was among the finalists for Best New Restaurant. Amy Brandwein of Centrolina and Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint were nominated in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category, along with Cindy Wolf of Charleston in Baltimore.
Philadelphia-based Stephen Starr, who counts Washington's Le Diplomate among his portfolio, won the award for Outstanding Restaurateur. Sam Calagione, founder of Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, received the award for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional. This was his seventh straight year being nominated.
Furstenberg celebrated his award on Monday night with his sons, Francois and Philippe, as well as restaurateurs Saied Azali (Perry's, Mintwood Place, Convivial) and Ashok Bajaj (Rasika, Bindaas, Oval Room, others), who all flew into Chicago for the ceremony. The baker doesn't expect the award to change his life much, although it may attract more customers to his bakery and help him find a publisher for a book he's writing.
“I talk about this frequently,” Furstenberg said. “I think we have a really good restaurant city now, with a vibrant independent restaurant community. We’ve made a little bit of progress on the retail food scene with Glen’s Garden Market and Each Peach and others that I’m probably not thinking about, but not enough.”
This post has been updated.