Four James Beard semifinalist spots for Charleston

Kevin Johnson of The Grocery, photographed during the opening night party of the BB&T Wine + Food Festival held at the South Carolina Aquarium Thursday February 28, 2103. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)

Two Charleston chefs are on the longlist for a James Beard Foundation award, considered the most prestigious prize in the high-end food world.

Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh has his fifth consecutive shot at being considered for Best Chef-Southeast, an award that last year was claimed by FIG’s Jason Stanhope. Joining him on the list of potential nominees is Kevin Johnson of The Grocery. Johnson was longlisted in 2014, but -- as I wrote one year ago – was “inexplicably left off” the list in 2015.

Previous winner Sean Brock, a four-time nominee in the Outstanding Chef category, was again named a semifinalist for the competition’s top award. This time, though, he’s being honored as executive chef of Husk Nashville. In previous years, he was cited for his work at McCrady’s.

McCrady’s also didn’t return to the semifinalist group for Outstanding Wine Service. Remarkably, McCrady’s and FIG in 2015 accounted for 40 percent of the eventual nominees, beating out programs in much bigger cities. FIG’s wine program, led by general manager Morgan Calcote, is back on the semifinalist list.

Charleston Grill also repeated its 2015 performance, landing on the longlist for outstanding service.

In the Best Chef-Southeast category, Bacon and Johnson are competing with many familiar names for spots in the contest: Other semifinalists include Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale; Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow; Ryan Smith of Staplehouse; Steven Satterfield of Miller Union (all located in Atlanta); Tandy Wilson of Nashville’s City House; Edward Lee of Louisville’s 610 Magnolia and Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Satterfield’s restaurant also earned an Outstanding Wine Program nod.

With four appearances on the list, Charleston didn’t come close to the record it set in 2015, when it supplied 11 semifinalists. But that was an aberration: Since producing just two semifinalists in 2010, Charleston has been annually represented by five or six semifinalists.

In addition to Brock’s reclassification, two of last year’s semifinalists -- Edmund’s Oast, recognized as a best new restaurant, and Ari Kolender, former executive chef of Leon’s Oyster Shop, selected as a potential Rising Star nominee -- were not eligible in their respective categories this year.

The falloff in semifinalists is likely attributable to a startlingly slow year in Charleston dining: The dearth of new ambitious restaurants meant there was little to draw James Beard voters to town. But all signs point to a busier and buzzier 2016.

The nominees will be announced via Twitter on Mar. 17, with the awards ceremony scheduled for May 2 in Chicago.

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