It’s no secret that Latinos have steadily risen in prominence when it comes to our influence on the national culinary scene and at the 2013 James Beard Awards held next week in New York City one thing is crystal clear: Hispanic chefs and restaurateurs are being recognized for their contribution in pushing American gastronomy forward.
Considered the Oscars of the culinary world, the James Beard Foundation Awards are without a doubt the highest honor for North American culinary professionals (previous Latino winners include José Andrés, Jose Garces and Michelle Bernstein). And while hundreds of the country’s best chefs have been nominated at this year’s awards, Latinos hold their own across multiple categories including those for “Best New Restaurant,” best blog and “Outstanding Restaurateur.” Now, more than ever Latinos – across Mexican, Caribbean and Spanish backgrounds – are expanding their scope of influence beyond the person standing over the hot stove: We’re finally represented as the financial investor, as the sommelier, the blogger and historian. While we’ll have to wait until the lucky winners are presented in a sumptuous ceremony on Monday, here’s a look at the Latinos who’ve made the cut as semi-finalists; simply put, the people we’ll be rooting for as Latinos who’ve pushed our scope of influence to include every facet of the culinary world.
Best New Restaurant
Mi Casa by Chef José Andrés, at Dorado Beach at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve (Dorado, Puerto Rico)
Under the culinary direction of internationally-acclaimed chef José Andrés, Mi Casa blends Spanish gastronomic influences with savory Caribbean elements. As one of this year’s nominees for the highly competitive “Best New Restaurant” category, Mi Casa offers both a modern and traditional dining experience with its innovative offerings.
Zacatecas tacos & tequila (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Chef Daniel Marquez has made Zacatecas tacos & tequilas a destination in the Southwest; his emphasis on fresh, organic ingredients and contemporary style makes the Mexican cantina-style restaurant unique among other offerings within the area.
Outstanding Bar Program
Rivera (Los Angeles, California)
John Rivera Sedlar’s landmark restaurant in foodie-centric Los Angeles offers much more than food. With its serious yet tongue-in-cheek approach to craft mixology, its bar program under Julian Cox is the subject of nationwide acclaim — making it one of the country’s best Latin restaurants. And Sedlar – known for his innovative interpretation of classic Mexican-American staples – is still very much still considered the father of modern Southwest cuisine, with his nomination this year for “Best Chef: West.”
Julian Serrano at the Picasso (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Executive chef Julian Serrano – a 13-time AAA Five Diamond Award winner – is a nominee for “Outstanding Chef”; his cuisine, inspired by French and Spanish gastronomy, is a destination in Las Vegas with offerings ranging from warm langoustine salad with piquillo pepper vinaigrette and roasted tournedo loin of Colorado lamb with pisto, mint aioli and tempura zucchini flower. His restaurant, Piscasso, is also a nominee for “Outstanding Wine Program.”
Phil Suarez – Suarez Restaurant Group (ABC Kitchen, Jean Georges, wd~50)
At 69 years old, Phil Suarez is one of the power players on the national restaurant scene, having opened more than 40 restaurants across the country. With the success of nationally renowned restaurants like ABC Kitchen, Mercer Kitchen and wd~50 to his credit, the Puerto Rican restaurateur is one of the most-highly sought after investors in the nation.
Best Chef: NYC
César Ramirez– Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Styled after a humble bodega, Brooklyn Fare is a three-Michelin-starred restaurant under the direction of César Ramirez, whose eye for styling and impressive food combinations have made him a favorite on the New York City culinary scene.
Best Chef: Southwest
Hugo Ortega – Hugo’s (Houston, Texas)
Hugo Ortega recreates the food of his Mexico City childhood but in a way that pays homage to fresh ingredients and American sensibility. A cookbook author and previous James Beard nominee, Ortega keeps his inspiration fresh with regular trips across the border with his brother, Hugo’s pastry chef Ruben, in tow.
Rene Ortiz – La Condesa (Austin, Texas)
Austin is full of Mexican restaurants, but only La Condesa can boast an authentic menu with a forward-thinking feel. Don’t expect platters of cheese-covered enchiladas; instead, Ortiz’s style is fresh and modern while retaining the classic flavors of authentic Mexican cuisine.
Armando Pomales – Café Central (El Paso, Texas)
A community college culinary school graduate, Pomales worked his way up from sous-chef to executive chef of one of the region’s most lauded culinary destinations. Mexican food – but not the way your abuelita may have made it – is his specialty, prepared with a contemporary southwest flair accented by a fine dining sensibility.
Martín Rios – Restaurant Martín (Santa Fe, Texas)
A big trend among chefs is farm-to-table cuisine, but few take it as literally as Chef Martín Rios. The Guadalajara, Mexico native keeps a garden adjacent to his restaurant and approaches his New Progressive American cuisine with a global approach, incorporating Mexican, French and Italian influences.
Best Chef: West
Josef Centeno – Bäco mercat (Los Angeles, California)
The speciality at Bäco mercat may be a sandwich – yes, you read that correctly – but Chef Josef Centeno’s signature flatbread sandwich on bäco bread serves as the platform for a host of exciting flavors incorporating heritage ingredients. And the sandwiches are just the beginning: there’s an oxtail pot pie, cold noodle salads with pork and beef carnitas and fried kabocha squash with piquillo, all evidence of Centeno’s exciting approach to modern, Latin-inspired cuisine.
Ricardo Zarate, mo-Chica (Los Angeles, California)
Peruvian food has quickly emerged as one of the biggest food trends over the past few years, and one of its leading stars is Ricardo Zarate, a Lima native whose impressive technique has provided the platform for innovative, forward-thinking dishes exemplary of Peruvian cuisine.
Individual Food Blog
Cannelle et Vanille – authored by Aran Goyoaga
Aran Goyoaga isn’t your typical soccer mom: instead, the mother of two’s food blog provides deliciously approachable gluten-free recipes presented with beautiful styling and gorgeous photography.
Gran Cocina Latina, Maricel E. Presilla
A chef and historian with two acclaimed restaurants in Hoboken, New Jersey, Presilla’s 900-page tome featuring more than 500 recipes is a veritable Bible on Latin culinary tradition. Born in Cuba, Presilla’s extensive travels throughout South and Central America have made her an authority on Latin cuisine; her book, chock-full of anecdotes from home cooks across the Americas, is a unique offering in a crowded market.
Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductees
Zarela Martinez is credited with nearly single-handedly bringing upscale regional Mexican fare to New York City; raised in Agua Prieta in Mexico, her entrepreneurship and business savvy made her one of a select few culinary personalities nominated for the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America for their display of “remarkable talent and achievement.”