The prestigious James Beard Award SemiFinalists have just been announced and we’re happy to see that plenty of Colorado’s top talent in the hospitality industry have been featured. Below, we’ve listed everyone in Colorado who was announced, with some newcomers along with some returning faces, plus, a new category: Outstanding Bakery. Head back in March to see the finalists and June to find out when the winners are announced.
1. Outstanding Restauranteur
Kelly Whitaker took the spot in the Outstanding Restauranteur category for his work in the Id Est Hospitality Group that covers Basta in Boulder which specializes in pizza, The Wolf’s Tailor, a seasonal and regional restaurant in Denver and BRUTØ, a Mexican-inspired restaurant in Denver. Id Est Hospitality Group strives to create zero waste, believes in inclusivity and a commitment to the supply chain, and are apart of a few environmentally friendly initiatives like Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and Slow Food.
2. Outstanding Chef
We were happy to see Dana Rodriguez pop up on the list for the second year in a row with her exceptional work as Executive Chef of Super Mega Bien, the upcoming revamped kitchen at Casa Bonita, and her own restaurant, Cantina Loca. Denver-based, Chef Dana worked her way up through the restaurant industry, and we’re excited to see her hard work and talent recognized.
Josh Nierberg has had his hat in the Denver hospitality ring for a while now, working back of house in many Denver restaurant during the 90s. After meeting and helping Chef Sean Yontz open some of Denver’ most popular restaurants like Tamayo and Vega, he also became known for his extensive experience as a sommelier, specializing in Spanish wine. With a focus on regional cuisine and local Colorado meat, produce, and ingredients, Nierberg’s place on this list calls back to food and Colorado’s continued symbiosis.
3. Emerging Chef
Bo Porytko of Misfit Snack Bar fame and the, now closed, Rebel Restaurant is on many Denver ‘Chefs to Watch’ list, and for great reason. His seasonal and quirkily curated menu at Misfit SnackBar inside Middleton has been a local favorite since it’s emergence in the Denver scene, with fun collaborations and pop ups dotting his career, and now, he’s just opened Molotov Kitschen, a “mischievous take on traditional Eastern European cuisine” with a special soft spot for Ukraine, as that’s Porytko’s ethnic background. Keep an eye on Porytko, because we’re waiting for his next move with anticipation.
4. Best New Restaurant
Run, don’t walk to Alamosa to try out The Friar’s Fork, a unique restaurant experience that recently opened in 2022 and serves Italian and Mediterranean fare. Think hearty meatballs in thick tomato and herb sauce, stewed lamb between fresh bread and slathered with grain mustard, spicy peppers, lettuce, and onions like a NY style sandwich if a Greek chef made it. Set inside a former church and called The Sanctuary, we’ve heard this is akin to a spiritual experience.
5. Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker
Denver’s very own Reunion Bread got a special mention in the newest category of the James Beard Awards, Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker. Located inside the Sour Hotel and Market Hall, Ismael De Sousa has been hard at work crafting delicious sourdough, croissants, and Reunion Bread’s outstanding reputation for all things carby and wholesome.
6. Outstanding Hospitality
Palisade, known for delicious Colorado produce like peaches, is also the location of this next semifinalist, Pêche, a restaurant that celebrates culinary creativity. Online they feature sample menus of their current dishes, but the’ve also noted that their menu changes all the time, so what you see might not be what they’ve currently got in house. But with dishes like Charred Figs, Moroccan Lamb, and Palisade Heirloom Tomatoes, we hope you can get a feel for what they’re dishing up.
7. Outstanding Wine or Beverage Program
Sunday Vinyl in the Denver Union Station is known for 2 things: natural wine and vinyl. Sunday Vinyl is created by Frasca, the James Beard Nominated Group. From their extensive wine menu to their small plates like Deviled Eggs and Braised Pork Belly, there’s plenty to nibble on while perusing their wines. If you’re not sure what to order, we’d definitely recommend getting a personalized recommendation from their knowledgable staff or trying one of their wine flights.
8. Best Chef (Mountain Region: CO, ID, MT, UT, WY)
From Colorado came 5 different semifinalists for best chef in the Mountain Region, which is Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. We were also excited to see that 4/5 of the picks are from Denver! Jose Avila is a semi finalist again from La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal, Michael Diaz de Leon of BRUTØ, C. Barclay Dodge of Bosq in Aspen, Cindhura Reddy from Sputino, and finally, Penelope Wong from Yuan Wonton.