While the James Beard Foundation Awards typically highlight the best of the best from major food cities around the country—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco—this year’s list of winners read a little differently on the map. Yes, always-dominant New York still took home six of the medals presented Monday night, but several winners came from tertiary cities not thought of as food meccas.
Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen, for example, is the first-ever Baltimore chef to take a JBF Award back to the city, “a city which needs a little bit of good news right now,” he said during his acceptance speech. “I would put Baltimore in that quadrant of cities where interesting things are happening,” Gjerde said to the Baltimore Business Journal a day after winning. “It means we’re on par with some pretty interesting stuff.”
“What you saw across the awards was some recognition for chefs working in smaller cities,” Gjerde said, keying into a trend of emerging markets. And it rings true for chefs and operators across the country. Jonathon Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland beat out four Chicago chefs for the title of Best Chef: Great Lakes. Similarly, Gerard Craft of Niche, located in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton, beat out chefs from Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
And up against operators from New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans and Chicago, The Barn at Blackberry Farms in Walland, Tenn., took home the Outstanding Service award. “We are passionate about many things, but hospitality more than anything,” said proprietor Sam Beall. “It’s also reflective of the South. There’s something about Southern hospitality,” he said.
This attention to tertiary cities as up-and-coming foodie cities is something we’ve noticed on the rise at Restaurant Business, and the awards validated that. Instead of just looking to the big hubs for trends and rising stars in the restaurant world, more and more are coming from cities with food scenes that were once overlooked.