ORLANDO — The James Beard Foundation today named two Tampa chefs and one from Sarasota as regional semifinalists for its prestigious annual food awards.
Also earning semifinalist mentions in national categories was Bern's Steak House in Tampa for Outstanding Restaurant and Joey Redner Jr., founder of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, for Outstanding Wine, Spirits and Beer Professional.
This is the third time Baker has been a semifinalist. In 2011, The Refinery was a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the U.S.
“I'm floored,” Baker said. “We're just this little place in Tampa. We're not supposed to be doing this kind of stuff. I'm very flattered and humbled and still in a little bit of disbelief over this whole thing.
“And now, in true fashion, I'm going to go back to fixing my ice machine,” he said.
Johnson, who recently began overseeing food operations at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa in addition to SideBern's, was a Best Chef: South semifinalist in 2012. Split between the two operations, Johnson said sous chef Courtney Orwig is responsible for the restaurant's performance in the last year as planning for the Epicurean and its Elevage restaurant has taken precedence.
“This one in particular is a big honor,” Johnson said. “I get the credit and my name is on it, but he's the one doing as much work behind the scenes as anyone.”
Bern's was recognized by Beard in 1992 for its wine program. This is the first time in its 58-year history that the entire restaurant has been a Beard semifinalist.
On Feb. 26, chefs Johnson, Orwig and Price Evans of SideBern's, Bern's Steak House Executive Chef Habteab Hamde, and Bern's pastry chef Kim Yelvington will cook a five-course meal for 70 people at the James Beard House in New York City. Last year, SideBern's hosted a dinner of previous semifinalists from Tampa to raise money for James Beard Foundation scholarships.
“We've got a full dining room today at Elevage, a full banquet room,” Johnson said. “ We'll high-five the sous chefs and get back to work.”
David Laxer, owner of Bern’s and SideBern’s and a partner in the Epicurean Hotel, said he was thrilled for Johnson and his accomplishments, but also for the entire steak house staff and for the legacy of his father, restaurateur Bern Laxer.
“On a personal level for the family, it’s great to be in great company with James Beard and the foundation,” Laxer said. “We want to continue to bring education and professionalism to the culinary world with cooking classes and wine classes and pushing the envelope with culinary experiments. It ties in with what James Beard was about.”
Chef Steve Phelps, of Indigenous in Sarasota, joined Baker and Johnson this year in the Best Chef: South category. This is the first time Phelps has been a Beard semifinalist. The 80-seat restaurant opened in September 2011.
“My hair just stood up all over my whole body,” Phelps said. “That is beautiful. I've been working so hard to get some recognition for this place.”
This also is the first Beard semifinalist nomination for Redner Jr., who started Cigar City Brewing in 2008 in Tampa. The brewery has won numerous medals for its beers at the Great American Beer Festival. Ratebeer.com in 2013 named Cigar City the fourth-best brewery in the world. The brewery, which operates a tasting room at its West Spruce Street plant, opened Cigar City Brew Pub in Carrollwood in 2013.
Like Phelps, Redner was unaware Wednesday he was a candidate to be a semifinalist.
“I certainly know how prestigious the James Beard Foundation is,” he said. “But an award never even occurred to me.”
Other brewers among the semifinalists include: Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del.; Mike Floyd, Nick Floyd, and Simon Floyd of Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, Ind.; Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Rob Tod, Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, Maine.
“Being among those guys makes it much more humbling,” Redner said. “Those are the craft beer legends and pace-setters. That's really cool.”
The New York City-based culinary federation each year bestows awards in several categories to honor numerous segments of the U.S. culinary community. Beard separates into 10 regions, in addition to many other restaurant and chef categories. It also honors cookbook authors and journalists.
Finalists for all categories of this year's awards will be announced March 18 in Chicago. The Beard Awards gala in New York City will take place May 2 for cookbook authors and journalists and May 5 for restaurateurs and chefs.
Here are the full lists of semifinalist nominees in the James Beard Foundation Awards, in the categories with local nominees:
Bern's Steak House, Tampa
The Fearrington House Restaurant, Pittsboro, N.C.
Fore Street, Portland, Maine
Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
Greens, San Francisco
Hamersley's Bistro, Boston
Hearth, New York City
Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.
Jaleo, Washington, D.C.
Mélisse, Santa Monica, Calif.
Pearl Oyster Bar, New York City
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
Primo, Rockland, Maine
The Slanted Door, San Francisco
Terra, St. Helena, Calif.
Vidalia, Washington, D.C.
wd~50, New York City
Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, Ranchos de Taos, N.M.
Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, Vanberg & DeWulf, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Mike Floyd, Nick Floyd, and Simon Floyd, Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, Ind.
Ted Lemon, Littorai Wines, Sebastopol, Calif.
Steve Matthiasson, Matthiasson Wine, Napa, Calif.
Stephen McCarthy, Clear Creek Distillery, Portland, Ore.
Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Luca Paschina, Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville, Va.
David Perkins, High West Distillery & Saloon, Park City, Utah
Tom Peters, Monk's Cafe, Philadelphia
Joey Redner, Cigar City Brewing, Tampa
Jörg Rupf, St. George Spirits, Alameda, Calif.
Eric Seed, Haus Alpenz, Edina, Minn.
Rob Tod, Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine
Ann Tuennerman, Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans
Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Ky.
Burt Williams, founder of Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg, Calif.
David Wondrich, spirits educator, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Stephen M. Wood, Farnum Hill Cider, Lebanon, N.H.
Best Chef: South
Greg Baker, The Refinery, Tampa
Vishwesh Bhatt, Snackbar, Oxford, Miss.
Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans
Derek Emerson, Walker's Drive-In, Jackson, Miss.
José Enrique, José Enrique, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Justin Girouard, The French Press, Lafayette, La.
Chad Johnson, SideBern's, Tampa
Matthew McClure, The Hive, Bentonville, AR
Rob McDaniel, SpringHouse, Alexander City, Ala.
Jose Mendin, Pubbelly, Miami Beach
James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig, Winter Park
Steve Phelps, Indigenous, Sarasota
Ryan Prewitt, Pêche Seafood Grill, New Orleans
Hari Pulapaka, Cress, DeLand, Fla.
Horacio Rivadero, The District, Miami
Henry Salgado, Spanish River Grill, New Smyrna Beach
Alon Shaya, Domenica, New Orleans
Michael Stoltzfus, Coquette, New Orleans
Isaac Toups, Toups' Meatery, New Orleans
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau's, New Orleans