Commonwealth, Sean Baker, Corey Lee Among the Semifinalists for the 2011 James Beard Awards

Earlier this a.m., our colleagues in N.Y. showed you the complete list of chef and restaurant semifinalists for the Oscars of the food world otherwise known as the James Beard Foundation Awards. This is not a list of nominees, mind you. That list of finalists will arrive March 21, after a panel of 550 mystery judges from around the country (up from 400 last year) separate the wheat from the chaff. But from here we can see which Bay Area players may likely be returning to places of honor as they have the past several years (Boulevard and Slanted Door under Outstanding Restaurant; Danko, Phan, and Mina under Outstanding Chef). Interestingly, Acquerello drops off the list for Outstanding Service, leaving Michael Mina the only Bay Area honoree in that category. But the real news comes in the Best New Restaurant, Best Chef: Pacific, and Rising Star Chef categories, where we see a few new faces who have also been critical darlings of the last six or eight months. The awards, btw, aren’t until May 9.

And now, a little Oscars-style analysis and handicapping.

For Best New Restaurant, we have four potential horses in this race:

Bar Agricole, San Francisco
Benu, San Francisco
Commonwealth, San Francisco
Prospect, San Francisco

Last year, of the local semifinalists in this category, two (Flour + Water and Frances) went on to become finalists, only to be edged out in the end by Marea in New York. Fingers crossed, given what a strong year San Francisco’s had, this could really be our year in this category. Our money is on Benu to make it through, but look for one or two of these others to make the cut as well, with Prospect probably at an advantage given their size, polish, and pedigree.

Also note a pair of semi-finalists down south, including Roy Choi’s A-Frame in Culver City, and the nearby Waterloo & City.

For Rising Star Chef, we have a returning contender and a couple of new entrants:

Sean Baker, Gather, Berkeley, CA
Perry Hoffman, étoile Restaurant, Yountville, CA
Aaron London, Ubuntu, Napa, CA
Thomas McNaughton, Flour + Water, San Francisco

McNaughton may have an advantage here only because his restaurant was a finalist for Best New Restaurant, but 28-year-old Perry Hoffman returns to the semifinalist list for the second year running, showing he’s still got support for his work at Domaine Chandon’s 30-year-old restaurant. Also, Aaron London gets some formal recognition for his already noteworthy work in keeping up appearances (and flavor) and Ubuntu, and Sean Baker has gotten a load of great national press recently, garnering a Chef of the Year honor from Esquire’s John Mariani, and having a dish land on Food & Wine’s best of the year. But don’t tell that to Bauer.

For Best Pastry Chef, we have but one local representative: Melissa Chou at Aziza. Expect to see her make it to the shortlist.

And finally in the Best Chef: Pacific category:

Laurence Jossel, Nopa, San Francisco
Loretta Keller, COCO500, San Francisco
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, CA
Mourad Lahlou, Aziza, San Francisco
Corey Lee, Benu, San Francisco
Daniel Patterson, COI, San Francisco
Gayle Pirie and John Clark, Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
Richard Reddington, Redd, Yountville, CA
James Syhabout, Commis, Oakland, CA
Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco

A strong showing for the Bay Area overall. We see the return of Jossell, Kostow, Keller, Lahlou, Patterson, Reddington and Tusk in this category, with the addition of legendary Foreign Cinema team Pirie and Clark, and newcomers in this category Lee and Syhabout. Jeremy Fox falls out of the running this year because he was not at the helm of a restaurant for the majority of 2010. Our money is on Kostow, Lee, Syhabout, Tusk, and Patterson, but this is really anybody’s game.

James Beard Chef and Restaurant Semifinalists Announced [Grub Street NY]
Earlier: James Beard Award Chef and Restaurant Semifinalists Announced -2010 [Grub Street NY]

Commonwealth, Sean Baker, Corey Lee Among the Semifinalists for the 2011 James