Canton restaurant and three Baltimore-area chefs named James Beard Award semifinalists

The James Beard Awards are back — and three Baltimore chefs and a Chinese restaurant have been named semifinalists.

Canton’s NiHao was named in the category of Best New Restaurant, while one of its founders, Peter Chang, was a semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category for his work at his eponymous restaurants in Maryland and Virginia. A new branch of Peter Chang is set to open in Columbia this fall.

Lydia Chang, chef Chang’s daughter and co-owner of NiHao, said she was pleasantly surprised by the shoutout for the Baltimore restaurant she helped launch during the pandemic. “We didn’t expect it,” she said, adding that her dad, hearing that he had been nominated in the Outstanding Chef category, simply shrugged. “‘The day moves on,’” Chang said he told her.

Meanwhile, Charleston’s Cindy Wolf was “excited” to be named a semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category, according to her business partner Tony Foreman. Wolf has been a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Mid Atlantic category 13 times. “This is a bigger deal,” said Foreman, noting that it’s a national category.

The Beard Awards, among the food world’s highest honors, announced an audit of policies and procedures in 2020 in response to calls “for a more inclusive and transparent Awards process,” according to a news release. The awards were canceled that year amid concerns about a lack of diversity and misconduct among some nominees.

In addition to their skills and innovations in the kitchen, winners now must “promote racial and gender equity, sustainability, and a work culture where all can thrive.”

Carlos Raba of Clavel Mezcaleria was named a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Mid Atlantic category this year. It’s a first time being nominated for Raba, though the restaurant has previously been a semifinalist in the Outstanding Bar Program category.

To date, only one Charm City chef has ever received the top honor: Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen.

Finalists will be announced March 16; winners will be made public at the June 13 awards ceremony in Chicago.

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