Every year a healthy handful of Hawai‘i chefs, restaurateurs and wine professionals make it as James Beard Award semifinalists. And every year the final ballot is announced, and we (or those who follow this kind of thing anyway) let out a collective sigh when we see none of our hometown heroes have made it. Not this year—the James Beard Foundation announced the 2020 nominees yesterday to reveal Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush of Senia are Hawai‘i’s last chefs standing, as joint contenders for Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific. It is great news to get during coronavirus lockdown. Senia’s doors have been closed since March 19.
Senia was a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2017, Kajioka was a semifinalist for Best Chef: West in 2018 (I guess the foundation couldn’t wrap its mind around co-chefs that year), and the pair got the Best Chef: West nod last year. The last Hawai‘i chef to actually win an award is George Mavrothalassitis—the third time was the charm for him when he nabbed Best Chef Northwest in 2003, after being a finalist in 2001 and 2002.
The James Beard Awards shifted the geography for its best regional chefs categories this year, going back to its 2006 configuration for the West Coast. The “West” category of California and Hawai’i is retired, with the Golden State now its own category and Hawai‘i back with Alaska, Oregon and Washington as part of the Pacific Northwest. From 2007 to 2012, Hawai‘i was in the Pacific category with California, and that morphed into West from 2013 to 2018.
Kudos go to two other Hawai‘i people who are making a difference on the continent. State Bird Provisions chef de cuisine Gaby Maeda, who got her start at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, is a nominee for the coveted Rising Star Chef of the Year Award. And New York Times writer Ligaya Mishan, originally from Kaua‘i, is up for a journalism award on foodways for her story “On Hawaii, the Fight for Taro’s Survival.”
And congratulations to an honorary Hawai‘i chef—San Francisco’s Mourad Lahlou, a partner in the new Miro Kaimuki with Chris Kajioka, is a Best Chef: California nominee.
The winners will be announced Sept. 25, 2020 from Chicago, via the James Beard Foundation’s Twitter feed.