It’s the 30th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation Awards, and Jersey has all the more reason to celebrate this time, with eight chefs and restaurants represented on this year’s list of semifinalists.
Among familiar names is New Jersey’s own mother of soulful heritage cuisine, Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama, who is nominated once again in the “Outstanding Chef” category. Presilla already has three James Beard Awards under her belt: “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” 2012, “Cookbook of the Year” in 2013 for Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America, and a “Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America” win in 2015. An “Outstanding Chef” win would not only be deserved, it would cement her culinary legacy as a highly influential voice in our national culinary conversation.
New entrants on this year’s lists include Jersey City’s 15 Fox Place, which was nominated for “Outstanding Hospitality,” and Cookie Till, nominated for “Outstanding Restaurateur.” 15 Fox Place is a unique father-and-son-run BYO Italian prix fixe out of a home in the Journal Square section of Jersey City. (And yes, good luck to all of us getting a reservation now.) Cookie Till is from Steve and Cookie’s in Margate, as well as the more recent small batch bakery concept Ventnor No. 7311.
If you’re looking for the most drama of the list, you’ll find it—and a few very familiar New Jersey names—on the “Rising Star Chef of the Year” and “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic” lists, respectively. Robbie Felice—fresh off being chosen for the Pasta World Championships—is a worthy contender for “Rising Star Chef of the Year.” Splitting the tension for Jersey representation in “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic,” are Joey Baldino of Zeppoli, Dan Richer of Razza in Jersey City, and Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, the culinary duo who recently turned their legacy into the brick-and-mortar Canal House Station restaurant. Baldino and Richer are perennial nominees; this is Baldino’s eighth year being nominated and Richer’s fifth.
James Beard Foundation Award finalists will be announced on March 25 and the James Beard Foundation Awards will take place on Monday, May 4 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Tickets go on sale in March and are $500 per person (that includes a walk-around tasting with 20 recent James Beard Award winners). Here are some Awards FAQs to brush up on while you mull a ticket and a flight.