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LA’s James Beard Awards Nominations Are a Double-Edged Sword for the City

Some very big misses, but plenty of hits too

James Beard Finalist announcement at A.O.C. wine bar on March 15
Matthew Kang
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Another year of James Beard Foundation Awards nominations are in the books, and yet again it seems like Los Angeles might be getting set up for a bit of failure on the big stage. While the city’s culinary scene dominated the regional chef bracket, LA continues to not get the recognition it surely deserves at the national level — a point eloquently made by critic Besha Rodell over at LA Weekly. Let’s take a look at who ended up where. My commentary comes in after each section in italics.

Best Chef: West

Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles

Jeremy Fox, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen, Santa Monica, CA

Ludo Lefebvre, Trois Mec, Los Angeles

Travis Lett, Gjelina, Venice, CA

Los Angeles is looking huge in this category, which is spread across California, Hawaii and Nevada. Four of the six entrants hail from the Southland, with the other two out of San Francisco. That means Hawaii and Nevada had no representation whatsoever this year, sadly.

Margarita Manzke, with husband Walter Manzke
Elizabeth Daniels

Outstanding Pastry Chef

Margarita Manzke, République, Los Angeles

A well-deserved nod from one of LA’s most important pastry names.

Outstanding Restaurateur

Caroline Styne, The Lucques Group, Los Angeles (Lucques, a.o.c., Tavern, and others)

Another absolutely crucial add. Styne’s resume is impeccable, and she continues to be a driving force in the culinary scene here.

Outstanding Restaurant Design (75 Seats and Under)

A blonde wood and light white interior of a new restaurant bathed in California light.
Kismet, Los Feliz
Wonho Frank Lee

Firm: Guga
Designer: Jeff Guga
Project: Kismet, Los Angeles

A surprising but smart pick for the JBFA team here. Kismet is a super buzzy restaurant right now and definitely has the look, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

Outstanding Restaurant Design (75 Seats and Over)

Gwen by Curtis Stone
Gwen, Hollywood
Wonho Frank Lee

Firm: Home Studios
Designers: Evan and Oliver Haslegrave
Project: Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant, Los Angeles

There are few more beautiful restaurants in Los Angeles than Gwen, which has all the glitz and glamor you’d want from a high quality, high price tasting menu option in the thick of Hollywood.

2017 James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductees

Suzanne Goin

Suzanne Goin
Evan Kleiman

This is a hall of fame induction of sorts, with two fantastic names earning their place. Kleiman in particular is a singular voice in the greater Los Angeles food community, and is a must-listen for anyone who cares about the scene here.

All in all, a formidable list of talent. But that does not take away from more than a few glaring oversights, including zero nominations in the following primary categories:

Best New Restaurant
Outstanding Chef
Outstanding Restaurant
Rising Star Chef of the Year
Outstanding Baker
Outstanding Bar Program
Outstanding Wine Program

On the other hand, Los Angeles did well in this year’s media categories. Jessica Koslow’s Sqirl cookbook Everything I Want to Eat earns a nod, while big groups from KCET, KCRW, and elsewhere saw some shine as well. This is a city that loves talking about food, even if the James Beard folks don’t always reward our culinary efforts with actual hardware. The media awards take place in New York City in April, with the chef and restaurant awards landing in Chicago on May 1.