The James Beard Foundation handed out its annual awards for restaurants and chefs Monday night in Chicago, and one local took home his first prize after multiple past nominations: Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst was named Outstanding Baker.

He was both thrilled — and embarrassed— by the award.

“I was really happy to be thought of as one of the best bakers in America. I was really excited about being nominated all three times since the award was created,” Furstenberg said. (The Outstanding Baker category was created in 2015, and Furstenberg has been nominated every year.)

“Now that I am officially considered the best baker in America, I find it embarrassing,” he added.

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Why?

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

As previously announced, Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora received the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award. Her namesake restaurant is scheduled to close at the end of June.

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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.

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But does the award provide further evidence that Washington has become a great food city, a title that Furstenberg refuted in a 2013 take down for The Washington Post Magazine?

“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.”

For a complete list of winners, head over to the James Beard Foundation website.

This post has been updated.

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