Are there any shiny medals in Detroit’s future? The James Beard Award Foundation’s committee on Wednesday, January 24, released the names of its restaurant, bar, and chef semifinalists (read: long list) for what’s considered one of the most elite honors in hospitality. Michigan, resurgent on the national stage in the last few years, has 13 semifinalists.
The names include some of metro Detroit’s finest: Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere of New Center’s East African restaurant Baobab Fare are in the running for Outstanding Restaurateur while Rocky Coronado of Nepantla in Southwest Detroit is being considered for Emerging Chef. Alpino in Corktown is a candidate for Best New Restaurant and beloved Dearborn dessert oasis, Shatila Bakery, is on the long list for Outstanding Bakery. Lebanese brunch spot AlTayeb being considered for Outstanding Hospitality, while Folk and Spencer in Ann Arbor are semifinalists in the Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program category. Selden Standard is named in the Outstanding Restaurant category.
In the regional category for Best Chef: Great Lakes: John Yelinek of Ladder 4 Wine Bar, Ji Hye Kim of Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, Doug Hewitt from Freya in New Center, Hajime Sato of Sozai in Clawson, and Dan Klenotic from New Orleans-inspired spot Bellflower in Ypsilanti.
In 2023, Michigan fetched a whopping 14 semifinalist nods followed by five official nominations. Though no Mitten State chefs or restaurants took home a medal, former Detroit Free Press critic Mark Kurlyandchik, alongside Freep video producer Brian Kaufman and senior news director for visuals Kathy Kieliszewski received a media award (hosted at a separate Chicago gala on the same weekend) for his documentary film, Coldwater Kitchen; the film centers the life of chef Jimmy Lee Hill who acts as a teacher at the Food Technology Program at Lakeland Correctional Facility. Likewise, current Detroit Free Press food critic Lyndsay Greene brought home an award for Emerging Voice (she was also nominated for a Pulitzer!). In 2022, Detroit’s own Warda Bouguettaya of Warda Patisserie brought home an award for Outstanding Pastry Chef — becoming the first Detroiter to receive a medal in roughly 30 years.
This is, not to overemphasize it, the long list, and as such the categories will be narrowed down in the coming weeks to official nominees, announced on April 3. Still to come are nominations for media, leadership, and the honorary America’s Classics Awards. The Restaurant and Chef ceremony, an opportunity for industry and media professionals to dress up in their natty best and commingle, is scheduled for June 10 at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago. May the odds be ever in Detroit’s favor.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards.