You can’t blame Houston foodies from being giddy with excitement.
The nation’s culinary spotlight was squarely on the city Wednesday morning as the James Beard Foundation announced its list of finalists for outstanding chefs and restaurants in a live ceremony at Hugo’s restaurant in Montrose.
But the anticipation quickly fizzled as Houston’s restaurant community got shut out.
Not a single chef, restaurant, wine or spirits professional received nominations for the James Beard Awards, the Oscars of the food world, announced Wednesday morning in Houston. There were 11 possible chances for Houston semifinalists to advance as finalists for the 2019 Beard chef and restaurant awards.
“We got skunked,” said Chris Shepherd, chef/owner of three of Houston’s most celebrated restaurants and who was in contention for Outstanding Chef for his work at Georgia James steakhouse. “So what do we do now? We try to do even better.”
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The announcement put a damper on the euphoric atmosphere that enveloped the city’s restaurant community since the James Beard Foundation announced it would make the finals nomination from Houston, a first for H-Town.
At Tuesday night’s sold-out dinner to welcome the Beard contingent at Caracol, hopes were high that Houston would score multiple finalists for the food world’s highest honor. But as each category was announced, hopes dimmed as one by one Houston names failed to make the coveted finals.
Houston First, the government corporation that markets the city’s tourism and convention business, put on a brave face Wednesday. It was Houston First, after all, that worked to bring the Beard finals announcement ceremony to Houston in a year that saw great culinary diversity within the 11 semifinalist nominations the city scored in February. At the time, the Beard Foundation said it chose the city to make the finals announcement as a testament to Houston’s dynamic restaurant landscape.
“The take-away is that the Beard Foundation recognized Houston as ground zero of a major food fusion scene,” said David Mincberg, chairman of Houston First. “The facet that the foundation came to Houston speaks for itself as a recognition that Houston is a foodie town.”
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But not everyone was smiling Wednesday, as expressions of shock went through the invited guests at Hugo’s when it was clear that no one from Houston would advance to the finals, which will be held at a gala on May 6 in Chicago.
“There’s an overwhelming appreciation of our culinary scene, and we all felt it,” said Visit Houston chef marketing officer Holly Clapham-Rosenow, who said that Houston First will again try to woo the Beard Foundation to make its 2020 finalist announcements from Houston.
Disappointment? Yes, Clapham-Rosenow acknowledged. “In the meantime we just continue to dine.”
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