Chef Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint earned the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: South and Zachary Engel, chef de cuisine at Shaya, earned a national honor as Rising Star Chef of the Year at the awards ceremony Monday night in Chicago. They were two of the 11 finalists among local chefs and restaurateurs nominated for Beard Awards this year.
Engel, chef de cuisine of Shaya, earned the national award for Rising Star Chef of the Year, which is presented to a promising chef age 30 or younger. Shaya, the Magazine Street restaurant of chef Alon Shaya and the Besh Restaurant Group, earned the Beard award for Best New Restaurant in America last year.
“To everyone in New Orleans, you’ve been the perfect audience to tell this brand new story of Israeli food down south. I’m so grateful that you guys have been so open to it,” Engel said in his acceptance speech. He thanked his staff and co-workers at Shaya, and the namesake chef himself, saying “You took me in and showed me how to cook in a way that makes people feel the pure joy of warm hospitality. Let’s enjoy tonight and then you and I have work to do.”
Engel, a first-time Beard Award nominee, beat out chefs from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle for the award.
Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint won the award for Best Chef: South. She was one of three New Orleans chefs up for the award, including Slade Rushing of Brennan’s and Nina Compton of Compere Lapin. “This is really unexpected,” Wilcomb said.
Herbsaint is owned and operated by chef Donald Link’s restaurant group. “Thank you to Donald Link, the best friend and mentor anyone could ever ask for,” she said.
Link was also nominated for Outstanding Chef this year, but did not win the award. This is the fourth year in a row he was nominated.
Arnaud’s French 75, the bar at the historic French Quarter restaurant, won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program. Another New Orleans nominee, Cure, also competed in that category. Master mixologist Chris Hannah accepted the award Monday night in Chicago, alongside proprietors Katy Casbarian and Archie Casbarian Jr.
In his remarks, Archie Casbarian Jr. thanked their father, the late Archie Casbarian, who purchased the restaurant in the 1970s and restored it to its current grandeur. The younger Casbarian gave credit to his father “who taught us a great lesson who never let his blindness get in the way of his vision for great hospitality.”
Kelly Fields, pastry chef for the Besh Restaurant Group and partner in its Willa Jean café and bakery, was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef but did not take home an award. Emeril’s was also a nominee for Outstanding Wine Program.
Galatoire’s was also nominated for outstanding service and for the fourth year, JoAnn Clevenger of Upperline Restaurant was up for the award for Outstanding Restaurateur. The award is presented “to a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship.”