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Colorado chefs, restaurants nab an impressive 13 semifinalist spots as James Beard Awards return

Caroline Glover (Annette), Jose Avila (El Borrego Negro), Dana Rodriguez (Work & Class) and other high-profile chefs, restaurants make the semifinals this year

Dana Rodriguez, chef and co-owner of Super Mega Bien, poses for a portrait at the restaurant in Denver on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Dana Rodriguez, chef and co-owner of Super Mega Bien, poses for a portrait at the restaurant in Denver on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.

The James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards announced its return Wednesday with a list of semifinalists for the 2022 awards following a controversial year-plus hiatus.

Colorado made a considerable showing with 13 nominations for what’s widely regarded as top honors in the hospitality industry, including in categories such as “outstanding restaurateur,” “outstanding chef” and “best new restaurant.” Seven of the 20 chefs nominated as the best in the Mountain Region — which includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — are from the Centennial State.

The last time James Beard announced award finalists was in 2020, when Colorado boasted six nominations. However, the awards were canceled that year — and subsequently in 2021 — due to the pandemic.

“Considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do,” CEO Clare Reichenbach said at the time.

The New York Times later reported that questions about nominees’ behavior and a lack of diversity among the winners marred the awards and likely played into the cancellation. During its hiatus, the awards underwent an audit of its policies and procedures in an effort to remove systemic bias, increase diversity among those who vote on winners, and make the awards process more transparent and accessible, among other goals.

The 2022 winners will be announced on June 13. See the list of local nominees below.

Colorado’s 2022 James Beard Award Restaurant and Chef Semifinalists

Edwin Zoe speaks at Zoe Ma Ma on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

Outstanding Restaurateur

Edwin Zoe, Zoe Ma Ma and Chimera Ramen, Boulder and Denver, CO

Outstanding Chef

Josh Niernberg, Bin 707 Foodbar, Grand Junction, CO

A spread of salsas, street corn, chips, guacamole, cocktails and griddled panela cheese from Bellota in Denver.

Emerging Chef

Manuel “Manny” Barella, Bellota, Denver

Best New Restaurant

Casian Seafood, Lafayette, CO

Spuntino chef and co-owner Cindhura Reddy prepares Capesante, a seared Hokkaido scallop dish, at Spuntino Restaurant on June 27, 2019 in Denver, Colorado.

Outstanding Hospitality

Spuntino, Denver

Art Deco details at the Wine Bar at The Little Nell in Aspen.

Outstanding Wine Program

The Little Nell, Aspen, CO

Chef Jose Vilchez Avila is pictured in front of a mural by local Westwood artist Santiago Jaramillo outside of his kitchen in the Westwood neighborhood on Feb. 28, 2021 in Denver. Chef Jose Vilchez Avila operates El Borrego Negro, an Instagram-based business that operates from behind RISE in Westwood only on Sundays.

Best Chef: Mountain (CO, ID, MT, UT, WY)

Jose Avila, El Borrego Negro, DenverCody Cheetham, Tavernetta, DenverCaroline Glover, Annette, Aurora, COMawa McQueen, Mawa’s Kitchen, Aspen, CODana Rodriguez, Work & Class, DenverEric Skokan, Black Cat Farm Table Bistro, Boulder, COLuis Young, Penrose Room, Colorado Springs, CO

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