Beard Predictions: Best Chef, Pacific Region

Chef Michael Tusk of SF's Quince
Chef Michael Tusk of SF’s Quince Photo: Tablehopper

Throughout the day, Grub Street has been posting its predictions for tonight’s James Beard Awards. This is our last, we promise. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees.

Best Chef: Pacific
“Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Each candidate may be employed by any kind of dining establishment and must have been a working chef for at least the past five years. The three most recent years must have been spent in the region where the chef is presently working.” Recent winners in the Pacific region include Charles Phan, Suzanne Goin, Traci Des Jardins, Lee Hefter, and Craig Stoll.

Michael Cimarusti, chef-owner of L.A.’s Providence
For Him: Treasured locally also for his work at LaMill, Cimarusti’s Providence was nominated in the Best New Restaurant category in 2005, and in 2009 earned two Michelin stars. Gayot, Gourmet, and Esquire each named it one of the country’s best restaurants in past years while Cimarusti’s on-screen star is rising, increasing his name recognition beyond our streets.
Against Him: Though he rocked on both Top Chef Masters 2009 and Iron Chef America last year, print coverage has been limited to a few local outlets, suggesting that Providence, while hot in L.A., didn’t generate as much buzz abroad. We think it’s time he penned a book on preparing his Santa Barbara spot prawns to boost his name beyond SoCal’s borders.

Jeremy Fox, formerly of Ubuntu in Napa, currently a free agent
For him: He’s definitely the rock star in this category, having been named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs and a Chron Rising Star Chef in 2008, and garnering a Michelin star for Ubuntu, despite it being a vegetarian restaurant (has that ever happened?); like former boss Kinch, was previously nominated for a Beard Award last year; mentioned in O magazine; Ubuntu was one of Frank Bruni’s top two favorite new restaurants in the country last year and therefore got multiple mentions in the Times.
Against him: He’s young yet and currently does not have a restaurant to call home, having left Ubuntu abruptly (but “amicably”) last month.

David Kinch, Manresa in Los Gatos
For him: As far as accolades go, Kinch comes out on top. He’s previously been nominated for a Beard Award in ‘08 and ‘09; his restaurant in the only one in this group with two Michelin stars and four stars from the Chron; Manresa was named one of Gourmet’s Best Farm-to-Table Restaurants and ranks among Gayot’s Top 40 restaurants in the country, and Restaurant mag’s Top 50 in the world; and lastly, he totally gave Bobby Flay a beatdown in their Iron Chef America showdown.
Against Him: Outside of the Bay Area, Manresa hasn’t had quite the buzz as Tusk and Fox have had in the past two years, but a win after two previous nominations would not be a surprise.

Matt Molina, Mozza in L.A.
For Him: Pizzeria Mozza and its two younger sisters are still at the top of the list of L.A.’s most in-demand restaurants. Mozza was nominated for Best New Restaurant at the Beards in 2008, the same year Molina himself was nominated for Rising Star, so the powers-that-be have clearly kept a steady eye on all involved with Mozza’s success and are well-aware of Molina’s role here.
Against Him: The lion’s share of the attention that Mozza gets still gravitates to chefs Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, leaving Molina’s contributions overshadowed and lesser-known than those of his bosses. Even a 2009 Food & Wine feature on Molina was centered on the Umbrian villa of his mentor, Silverton. Coverage and accolades elsewhere were pretty limited, unless being among Mother Nature Network’s “40 Chefs Under 40” counts for anything. Simply put, the chef might need more visibility and mainstream attention to grab the win.

Michael Tusk, Quince in San Francisco
For him: This is Tusk’s fourth time being nominated in this category, having also made the finalists list in ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08; garnered three and half stars from the Chron and consistent accolades all around, before and after relocating Quince last year; received six mentions in Food & Wine in recent years, including this interview; along with Gary Danko, the only Beard nominee in town to get recommended by Town & Country.
Against Him: Not much

Grub Street Predicts: Michael Tusk
Grub Street has previously noted the Beard committee’s lack of love for L.A. and this feels like SF’s year in more ways than this one. Tusk has the most previous nominations under his belt and the most buzz going into the awards, but if this were last summer we’d be calling this for Fox, who despite not having a place to hang his chef’s hat at present, has won loads of respect from the industry at a relatively young age. A win this year would do a lot to ferry along any upcoming and unannounced plans to open his own place, so Fox, therefore, is the dark horse, with the odds on Tusk.

Read all of Grub Street’s Beard predictions.

Beard Predictions: Best Chef, Pacific Region