No James Beard Foundation awards this year? We’re good, L.A.

Closeup of fruit in a bowl with a dollop of creme fraiche and a biscuit top.
En croute dessert with summer fruits at République.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

I laughed on Tuesday while scrolling through Instagram when I saw my friend Adam Roberts had resurrected the threadbare “Distracted Boyfriend” meme as a reaction to this year’s James Beard Foundation awards — in which zero honors were given to a Los Angeles chef or restaurant. Roberts had labeled the boyfriend “the James Beard committee,” the horrified girlfriend as “L.A.” and the woman passing as “all the other cities.”

He was being funny, of course, and expressing our civic pride and frustrations, and probably aiming to stir a little trouble. He drew a few spicy commenters. They pointed out other cities, including New Orleans, that also were “robbed,” mentioned how little recognition goes to California restaurants outside Los Angeles and San Francisco, and rightly noted the far more diverse breadth of winners, including geographically.

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The latter was a result of a yearlong internal audit by the foundation that shifted the judging practices in the awards programs.

After nearly five years as Eater’s national critic last decade, I know most of these restaurants and celebrate the more accurately represented survey of culinary excellence in the United States in this list — starting with Mashama Bailey’s win for outstanding chef for her “port city Southern food” (as she describes it) at the Grey in Savannah, Ga. My time at Eater coincided with my six years on the foundation’s restaurant and chef subcommittee; Food columnist Jenn Harris is currently a member of the subcommittee, and Laurie Ochoa, general manager of Food, just served her final term on the book awards subcommittee.

Sure, I was riled up by L.A.’s losses as the awards were being announced. This was the seventh nomination for Margarita Manzke in the pastry chef category; she and her team express so much of Southern California in the daily selection that lines République’s pastry cases. Among danishes, crostatas and croissants (the plain is superbly flaky and buttery, a purist’s yardstick), I veer these days toward the brioche filled with delicate, earthy ube cream; a stunning pandan-coconut-mango honey cake; and seasonal variations on tres leches.

Beyond this, Manzke is creating dishes for the restaurant’s nightly dessert menu, like strawberry tiramisu layered with caramelized white chocolate sabayon or almond brown butter cake flanked with lemon verbena ice cream and the ripest apricots. She should have won.


The nominees for Best Chef: California included two of our masters — Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, whose generous spirit burns as brightly as the chiles in her southern Thai curries, and Bryant Ng, who melds the essences of Chinese, Singaporean and Vietnamese cuisines to create his own culinary language at Cassia in Santa Monica. A bowl of his cold noodles with blue crab is an ideal uplift during our stretch of June gloom.

Angry Egret Dinette was a contender for best new restaurant in America. Why wasn’t its chef and owner, Wes Avila, nominated for the singular wonders he created out of his Guerrilla Tacos truck years ago?

Closeup of a round medal with the likeness of a man in a bow tie.
A James Beard award medal (given to no L.A. chefs or restaurants this year).
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

It was heartening to see awards go to deserving honorees in Detroit and Tucson and Honolulu. No one city saw a sweep.

Were L.A. chefs and restaurants overlooked by judges because of less travel over the last two years, or as a backlash to the “Los Angeles is the greatest food city in America” narrative we like to play on repeat, or because the richness of L.A. culture still isn’t grasped nationally? Parsing is pointless. We know what we have. Go eat in these restaurants, and in all the others you love and want to see thrive. Awards and recognition mean everything and they mean nothing. Onward.

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— Speaking of restaurants that deserve awards: This week I review the relocated, reimagined and highly rewarding Kato in Row DTLA. When you have a special occasion, or want to experience the Taiwanese-inspired creations of one of our best chefs, make a reservation.

— Harris explains the Sriracha shortage panic.

— The wondrous and weekly Wat Thai Buddhist temple food court recently reopened. Don’t miss Jenn’s video documenting her recent visit with Jazz Singsanong.

— A Trois Mec veteran has begun serving pasta in Koreatown, and other news of the week from Stephanie Breijo.

Closeup of a portion of fish and serving of salad in the center of a large white bowl.
A course of golden eye snapper from the spring menu of Kato in the Arts District.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)