The home-field advantage lived up to its reputation Monday as cheers erupted when three of Charleston's own received nominations for James Beard Foundation Awards, the “Oscars” of the food world.
Advancing to the foundation's 2013 short list, or finalists, were Sean Brock of McCrady's and Husk for Outstanding Chef and The Ordinary oyster bar and seafood house for Best New Restaurant. “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart was nominated in the American Cooking book awards. Dupree lives in Charleston, Graubart in Atlanta.
The New York-based foundation, which counts more than 4,000 members, held the annual announcement in Charleston for the first time. The luncheon took place under a large tent at Lowndes Grove Plantation, where even the no-see-ums got in the spirit, munching on those in attendance.
“Well, why are we here?” asked Susan Ungaro, the foundation's president. “You are one of America's favorite food cities.”
Ungaro said the selection of Charleston was a “no brainer” after Angel Postell, director of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival, reached out to the foundation. The luncheon also marked a homecoming of sorts for Ungaro, who was editor of Family Circle magazine for 11 years until 2006. The magazine sponsors the Family Circle women's tennis tournament on Daniel Island.
“It's awesome,” said a beaming Mike Lata after Monday's midday announcements.
It was deja vu for the chef-owner of The Ordinary, who won a Beard “Best Chef Southeast” in 2009 for his farm-to-table concept at FIG restaurant. “We didn't know if we were just lucky the first time or not,” the chef said. “Most important ... our team is just amazing.”
Lata, holding his squirming young son, Henry, was joined at the back of the tent by his business partner, Adam Nemirow.
“I don't even remember what happened in 2012. We worked so hard,” Nemirow said. The restaurant opened just before Christmas during one of the busiest times of the year.
“It's been great, a little surreal,” he added.
Dupree, who also attended the luncheon, was happily surprised by her book's nomination.
“The book was so hard,” she said. “As hard to decide what to leave in as what to leave out.”
It also isn't Dupree's first experience with Beard. Her previous books have been nominated five times and she has won twice, for “Southern Memories” and “Comfortable Entertaining.” Dupree also is a Post and Courier columnist and does video recipes for the newspaper's website.
Brock, too, has been in the winner's circle before. He was named “Best Chef Southeast” in 2010, becoming the third consecutive Charleston chef to claim the crown at the time. Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill started the streak in 2008.
Reached by phone, Brock said he was overwhelmed by the honor of being considered for “Best Chef.” Those nominated must have won a regional best chef award before, he said.
“It's really scary,” he said, but I like being pushed. I like that pressure.”
Brock said he is thankful for the support he gets on a daily basis. “It's a perfect example of surrounding yourself with the right people. And, how lucky you are to have incredible investors, and dishwashers, and servers. ... It just makes you work better.”
Three other Charleston chefs didn't fare as well Monday. Those nominated as semifinalists in February for “Best Chef Southeast” but not making the final cut were Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh, Craig Deihl of Cypress and Joshua Keeler of Two Boroughs Larder.
Charleston Grill at Charleston Place Hotel also was an early contender for Outstanding Wine Program, but its name was not called out Monday.
Still, it is an honor to make the long or short list at all. The semifinalists were selected by a Restaurant and Chef Committee from more than 44,000 online entries in 20 categories. Finalists in each category were determined by more than 600 culinary professionals across the country.
Winners will be announced May 3 and 6 in New York City, culminating with a gala ceremony on the final night.