This week the James Beard Awards recognized three Granite Staters in their list of semifinalists, two of whom are in the category for Best Chef Northeast.
Rachel Forrest is food and dining editor for Seacoast Media Group. She says the Beard Foundation looks for "innovation, integration into the community; locally sourcing is very important now. And it seems to be a factor that if you're a chef/owner of a restaurant, because you basically have complete control over the design and the concept of all of the food coming out."
Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth is known for his involvement in the local food scene; this is his third time as a Beard Award semifinalist. "He's been on the culinary vanguard for all of our chefs for the past ten years or so," Forrest says. While many chefs have moved into farm-to-table operations in recent years, Mallett "really took it on and made that a real part of his cuisine - working with the farmers very closely, being in the chef's collaborative, sponsoring his barn dinner, and he's also very involved with sustainable fishing and making sure our restaurants and the people who dine in them are being exposed to fish that most people wouldn't normally eat, just so we can make sure we can keep them going."
Evan Hennessey of Stages at One Washington is Dover is a semifinalist for the first time. "He's a modernist chef," Forrest says. "He's doing some very inventive cuisine that people in our area have not really been exposed to, and they're embracing it." Hennessey is winning accolades, she says, for combining his innovative, sometimes "avant-garde" techniques with locally sourced ingredients.
Forrest adds that Hennessy's restaurant is so intimate that "you can be right there, sitting there talking to him while he's cooking. You can see him do it, and he'll explain it to you while he's doing it."
Stephen Wood of Farnum Hill Cider in Lebanon is a semifinalist this year for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional. Forrest says this is a boost not only for Farnum Hill Cider but for cider as a whole.
The Beard Award selection committee narrow the semifinalists down to five finalists in March. The winners will be announced May 5th at a gala event in New York. Rachel Forrest, who attended last year's awards dinner, says the event lives up to its reputation as the "Oscars of food," with a red carpet, well-dressed attendees, and, of course, great food.