A Toque Tip To Jersey’s James Beard Award Nominees

Congratulations are in order for these notable food professionals.

Chef Randy Forrester and Ally Forrester, who own the small-place, big-tastes Osteria Radici in Allentown, found out via text from friends offering congratulations.

Chef David Viana, partner at Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge, learned about it from his longtime mentor, Anthony Bucco, who is opening a new restaurant of his own, Felina, in Ridgewood.

The news was as big as it gets: first-time nominations for a James Beard Award.

The Forresters, nominated in the national category of Outstanding New Restaurant, were still in shocked-and-stunned mode a couple hours after the nominees list was released by the Beard Foundation on the morning of Thursday, February 15.

We’re so happy; this means so much—so much,” said Randy Forrester, who with his wife, Ally, opened the 24-seat BYO in September. This month, the restaurant was also named a New Jersey Monthly Best New Restaurant.

For Viana, the nomination in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category “was always a goal, but it seemed so far away. It never seemed like it could be real. But it happened, and at a place that’s so special.”

Viana, whose original voice in food is in sync with Heirloom Kitchen’s mission of education and innovation, was made a partner in the restaurant-cooking studio a year ago by owner Neilly Robinson.

I’ve had principles and philosophies of food and front-of-house—what a restaurant should be,” Viana said, as he was “still processing” the nomination. “I got a chance (at Heirloom) to do what I wanted, and to be recognized is very validating.”

Viana and the Forresters are joined in first-time Beard recognition by H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of Curiosity Doughnuts in Stockton, nominated in the Outstanding Baker category. The couple sell out of Stockton Market.

Three veritable old-timers are repeat Beard nominees:

Nominated in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category is Dan Richer, chef-owner of Razza Pizza Artigianale in Jersey City, who has been a previous nominee not only in that category, but also as Rising Star Chef.

Also nominated in the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category is Joey Baldino, chef-owner of Zeppoli in Collingswood.

Nominated in the Outstanding Service category is Chef Vola’s, the venerable old-school Italian restaurant in Atlantic City, which previously won a Beard Award as an America’s Classic restaurant.

That said, please let me offer an observation about New Jersey’s Beard honorees: Four out of six tilt Italian, be it traditional, or regionally focused modern, or honoring time-tested techniques advanced by the use of Garden State ingredients and devotion to craft. Italian cuisines of many styles have flourished in New Jersey for a century now. To have these practitioners of the craft in the 21st century honored is a credit to the high level of cuisine in the Garden State today.

Congratulations to Richer, Baldino, Viana, the Forresters, Talbot and Kamozawa, and the team at Chef Vola’s. The Beard finalists will be announced on Wednesday, March 14.

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