15 chefs and restaurants in Arizona are semifinalists for the 2022 James Beard Awards

After a two-year absence, the James Beard Awards are back to recognize the best restaurants and chefs in the country.

The James Beard Foundation announced Wednesday morning the semifinalists for the nation’s most prestigious culinary awards.

In Arizona, 15 chefs and restaurants made the cut across several categories, including Outstanding Chef and Restaurant, Best New Restaurant, and Emerging Chef.

Here are Arizona’s 2022 James Beard Award semifinalists

For Best Chef — Southwest, Arizona has four semifinalists in the category:

Best Chef — Southwest

The rest of the semifinalists included both familiar and new faces:

Outstanding Restaurateur

  • Chris Bianco of Tratto, Pane Bianco, and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix

Outstanding Chef

Outstanding Restaurant

Emerging Chef

  • Rochelle Daniel of Atria in Flagstaff

  • Donald Hawk of Valentine in Phoenix

Best New Restaurant

Outstanding Pastry Chef

Outstanding Baker

Outstanding Hospitality

Outstanding Wine Program

More: 10 best new restaurants in metro Phoenix, from Sonoran to southwestern-style fine dining

Why were the James Beard Awards canceled for two years?

In the beginning of 2020, 22 chefs and restaurants in Arizona were named semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, but the awards were canceled over the summer before winners were announced.

Several of the semifinalists were chefs whose restaurants have since closed during the pandemic, including eight-time semifinalist Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Café Gran Reserva in Phoenix, recognized in the Best Chef — Southwest category.

The James Beard Foundation originally announced the impact of COVID-19 on the dining industry as the reason why it canceled the awards. Many questioned if giving out awards was appropriate at the time.

But an investigation by New York Times food critic Pete Wells revealed other reasons behind the cancellation, including a lack of diversity among winners and a slew of accusations against several finalists for unethical business practices and abusing their workers.

‘Burn down the house’: Phoenix’s food scene was on fire. Then COVID-19 changed everything

The James Beard Foundation has since conducted an audit and, on Sept. 13, 2021, published a list of recommended changes. All changes will be implemented for the 2022 awards cycle, according to the foundation’s website.

One recommendation was to increase the diversity of committee members and judges to 45 percent Black, Indigenous and people of color in 2022-23, and to 50 percent after that. Another recommendation was to have an independent ethics committee review any allegations about a nominee.

What happens next for Arizona restaurants

In fall 2021, the public could recommend restaurants and chefs for the 2022 James Beard Awards. Judges and awards committee members — which can include restaurant writers, cookbook authors and other chefs — then whittled the list down to the semifinalists.

A new set of judges will visit all the semifinalists’ restaurants and vote to determine the finalists. The winners will be announced at the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony which will take place in Chicago, on Monday, June 13.

In 2019, chef Charleen Badman of Scottsdale restaurant FnB won Best Chef — Southwest, ending the state’s 12-year drought in the category.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 2022 James Beard Awards: Arizona chefs, restaurants semifinalists

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