Un­til Amer­i­can restau­rants be­came el­i­gi­ble for Miche­lin stars more than 10 years ago, the James Beard awards, which are only for U.S. restau­rants, were ar­guably the coun­try’s high­est achieve­ment of Amer­i­can culi­nary prow­ess. They are of­ten re­ferred to as

Pasatiempo - - AMUSE-BOUCHE -

Paris may be for lovers, but Santa Fe is for eaters. The ra­tio of no­table restau­rants to avid din­ers in this town is high, even if you count the tourists, and Santa Fe is a des­ti­na­tion city as much for its food as for its art and ex­cel­lent weather. If you need proof, con­sider how many of this rel­a­tively small town’s restau­rants have been listed as nom­i­nees, semi­fi­nal­ists, or win­ners of the James Beard Awards over the years.

Un­til Amer­i­can restau­rants be­came el­i­gi­ble for Miche­lin stars more than 10 years ago, the James Beard Awards, which are only for U.S. restau­rants, were ar­guably the coun­try’s high­est achieve­ment of Amer­i­can culi­nary prow­ess. They are of­ten re­ferred to as the Os­cars of food, and for chefs, get­ting their name on the semi­fi­nal­ist list is a point of pride — well-earned recog­ni­tion for those who spend their lives in the kitchen.

“It’s kind of ex­cit­ing,” said chef James Camp­bell Caruso, of La Boca and Taberna La Boca, of his Beard nom­i­na­tions. A Bos­ton-born chef with Basque and Ital­ian roots, Caruso stud­ied an­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico and brought that sen­si­bil­ity into his study of Span­ish cui­sine. He ap­proaches the menu at both his restau­rants (which are around the cor­ner from each other) with an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for au­then­tic­ity, and has been a Beard semi­fi­nal­ist in the Best Chef in the South­west cat­e­gory five times so far. “It’s re­ally done a lot for Amer­i­can chefs, es­pe­cially 20 to 25 years ago, when the world was look­ing more to­ward Europe for the best food and the best chefs,” he said. “There was a big turnover, and Amer­i­can chefs got a lot more cred­i­bil­ity and no­tice, and I think the James Beard Foun­da­tion was a big part of that.”

James Beard (1903-1985) was an Amer­i­can cook­book au­thor, chef, and food per­son­al­ity who be­came the face of Amer­i­can fine cui­sine. The James Beard Foun­da­tion an­nu­ally awards ex­cel­lence to Amer­ica’s chefs, restau­rants, food writ­ers, cook­book au­thors, and even cook­ing shows. Any­one can sub­mit a chef or restau­rant dur­ing the “call for en­tries” phase of the awards. From there, the awards com­mit­tee whit­tles the list down to ap­prox­i­mately 20 semi­fi­nal­ists in each cat­e­gory; the names are an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary. Those semi­fi­nal­ists are then pre­sented to the vot­ers — pan­elists and com­mit­tee mem­bers with the Beard Foun­da­tion as well as the roughly 300 pre­vi­ous James Beard Award win­ners, who are el­i­gi­ble to vote for­ever there­after. They vote for a list of five or so nom­i­nees (some­times also re­ferred to as “fi­nal­ists”) in each cat­e­gory, and then the judges de­ter­mine the win­ners, which are an­nounced at an awards cer­e­mony in April or early May. As the Beard Awards have grown, what once was a black-tie event held on a boat in Man­hat­tan is now split into roughly two sep­a­rate events: an awards event for food writ­ing and jour­nal­ism in New York and a chef and restau­rant awards gala in Chicago. Win­ners get a medal and a plaque and a statue, but be­cause all the vot­ing mem­bers are culi­nary pro­fes­sion­als (or food jour­nal­ists and writ­ers), It also gave us a huge boost in cred­i­bil­ity . ... Peo­ple would say, ‘Oh isn’t it cute that they write those cook­books . ... Oh wow, they re­ally write cook­books!‘ — Cheryl Al­ters Jami­son, cook­book au­thor

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