Amid scrutiny, the James Beard Foundation awards 5 L.A. restaurants, chefs and writers

The peach en croute dessert from République's Margarita Manzke, who won a James Beard Award in 2023.
After years as both a semifinalist and a nominee, République co-owner Margarita Manzke won a James Beard Foundation award for outstanding pastry chef or baker.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Dubbed the “biggest night of the year for the culinary industry” and “the Oscars of food,” the James Beard Foundation’s annual restaurant and dining awards are some of the highest accolades that chefs, restaurateurs and others in the industry can garner. Following weeks of controversy surrounding the foundation and its investigations into semifinalists and nominees, the awards ceremony took place in Chicago with big wins for some of the country’s most recognizable culinary names and up-and-comers.

This year some of the most acclaimed chefs in Los Angeles took home national and regional awards — as did Los Angeles Times Food critic Bill Addison, who won a media award on Saturday.

Anajak Thai chef and co-owner Justin Pichetrungsi poses in the kitchen.
Anajak Thai chef and co-owner Justin Pichetrungsi, who has taken over his family’s generational Thai restaurant in Sherman Oaks, won best chef: California on Monday night.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Justin Pichetrungsi, chef of L.A. Times restaurant of 2022 Anajak Thai, won best chef: California, an award he largely credits to the tutelage of his parents — and especially to his father, who cooked for 38 of Anajak’s 43 years before passing the torch to his son. A number of his fellow nominees, he noted, also cook with their parents, although it isn’t always easy.

“There’s a lot of intergenerational pain there and we’re trying to heal it one dish at a time; my parents are my teachers,” Pichetrungsi said before thanking his team, then added, “I’d love to thank my parents because they are my greatest allies. They argue with me a lot. I have the hardest conversations with them about where the direction of the restaurant is going, where the direction of cooks are going to be going, what’s the math involved in all this stuff. But they gave me the tools to do everything else, and for that I’m eternally grateful for them.”

A semifinalist or nominee every year since 2015, République co-owner and lauded pastry chef Margarita Manzke was finally awarded outstanding pastry chef or baker; an employee excitedly accepted the award on behalf of Manzke, who could not attend the ceremony.


Echo Park sake bar Ototo — which Addison dubbed “L.A.’s best sake bar” last year — won in the category of outstanding wine and other beverages program. “It was such a surprise to be nominated, to see that the Foundation had chosen to expand the category this year to recognize sake,” said co-owner Courtney Kaplan. “[It’s] such a special beverage that sometimes doesn’t always get the spotlight that I think it deserves.”

Ototo owners Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan stand inside their Echo Park sake bar.
Ototo owners Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan stand inside their Echo Park sake bar, which won the James Beard Foundation award for outstanding wine and other beverages program.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Other Los Angeles names permeated the Beard awards, with multiple accolades garnered during the media-awards ceremony.

Addison won the Craig Claiborne distinguished restaurant review award for “Poncho’s Tlayudas, a window to Oaxaca, serves one of L.A.’s defining dishes”; “At Chinatown’s Pearl River Deli, the menu is always changing — and worth chasing”; and “Anajak Thai is our 2022 Restaurant of the Year.” It marks the second James Beard Foundation award for Addison, who won for dining and travel writing in 2017, and his first while at the Los Angeles Times.

In the media awards’ book segment, Bludso’s Bar & Que chef-founder Kevin Bludso and co-author Noah Galuten won the restaurant and professional category for “Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and Soul,” an L.A. Times pick for best cookbooks of 2022.

Oxtail birria tacos, vegan gombo, soothing tofu, political crudités and vegetable trays at Bludso’s Bar & Cue.

Aug. 20, 2022

Personal essays by L.A.-based writers Kyla Wazana Tompkins and former Good Girl Dinette owner Diep Tran also won media awards.


The months leading to this year’s awards have been punctuated by reports and allegations that call into question the foundation’s more recent initiatives, many intended to create a more diverse and equitable process and nominee pool.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that through one of the James Beard Foundation’s new investigative policies, 2023 best chef: Southeast nominee Sam Fore felt she was interrogated by the committee based on an anonymously submitted complaint: Social-media posts, including one made to raise awareness of domestic violence, were examined as potential “targeted bullying” and “harassment” despite Fore not naming a perpetrator. The report has spurred discussions surrounding the foundation’s investigative process and its anonymous-tip procedure.

Fore’s is not the only controversy spurred by this year’s awards procedures. In spring, judges and multiple committee members resigned — and former winner chef John Currence smashed one of his own framed Beard awards with a brick — when chef Timothy Hontzas was disqualified from the category of best chef: South. The Foundation’s ethics committee determined that Hontzas’ alleged yelling at guests and employees violated the code of ethics.

“I am sickened today in a way I can’t even begin to explain,” Currence posted to Instagram in May, the caption to a photo of his smashed award. “But it is way past time to stop this cycle of insane blame and shame through arbitrary accusations and NOTHING approaching due-process and stripping people of credit they deserve based on nothing other than the opinion of one.”

“We are about raising people up, not calling them out,” Foundation Chief Executive Claire Reichenbach said at the ceremony.

Oxtail birria tacos, vegan gombo, soothing tofu, political crudités and vegetable trays at Bludso’s Bar & Cue.

March 29, 2023

When it came time to announce the category in which Hontzas had previously been a finalist, presenter Mairym “Monti” Carlo took the stage. “This next category — best chef: South — has brought more drama than a Mariah Carey concert, but we’re here for it,” she said, smiling. No one mentioned the controversy surrounding the way Fore was investigated during the announcement of best chef: Southeast, which was awarded to Terry Koval of Atlanta.


Earlier in the evening, chair of the awards committee Tanya Holland took the podium to share that New Orleans chef Leah Chase once told her: “‘Be prepared to get a lot of criticism in this industry, and work with it; you will make mistakes. The important thing is where your heart is and how you move on.’ The universe knows I’ve made numerous mistakes,” said Holland, who is chef of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland.

She has become comfortable being uncomfortable, she said, adding that she is motivated to make the industry better. The efforts of the foundation have made a difference in the diversity of the awards’ nominees and winners, she said, and should be commended.

“We’re learning as we go,” she said. “It’s not always smooth, but that doesn’t mean we’re not on the right path.”

Members of the Los Angeles Times Food section have served as judges for the awards but did not contribute to the reporting of this article.