These Mass. restaurants and chefs are 2020 James Beard Award semifinalists

Chefs in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and beyond were nominated across 11 categories.

Belgrade, Oldways 2019 trip to Cyprus, cooking demonstration in Cyprus by Ana Sortun of Oleana Restaurant Group. (Kristin Teig)
Ana Sortun is a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef. Kristin Teig

On Wednesday morning, the James Beard Foundation announced the 2020 restaurant and chef semifinalists for its annual James Beard Awards, a celebration of the people and places that are making waves in the national dining scene.

Among the esteemed names of movers and shakers, there were 11 categories that included Massachusetts nominees — some who were nominated in previous years, others who were new to the semifinalist list.

Best New Restaurant: Fox & the Knife and Tanám. The former is no small surprise: The South Boston enoteca from Karen Akunowicz has received continuous praise for its soulful Italian fare since it opened in February 2019. Equally as exciting, Ellie Tiglao’s Tanám has made a name for itself operating out of a sultry space in Somerville’s Bow Market, serving beautiful, story-driven Filipino food in a city that desperately needs more of the cuisine.


Outstanding Restaurant: Neptune Oyster. The North End’s boisterous seafood spot has been a longtime favorite for locals and tourists, offering what’s widely regarded as one of the city’s best lobster rolls.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Renae Connolly (Benedetto). The talented chef has worked her magic at Cambridge Italian restaurant Benedetto since it opened in 2016, making sweet dolci like brown butter zeppoli and lemon granita.

Best Chef: Northeast: Unmi Abkin (Coco & the Cellar Bar, Easthampton); Tracy Chang (Pagu, Cambridge); Carl Dooley (The Table at Season to Taste, Cambridge); Tiffani Faison (Orfano, Boston); Mayumi Hattori (The Club Car, Nantucket); Seizi Imura (Cafe Sushi, Cambridge); Cassie Piuma (Sarma, Somerville); Douglass Williams (MIDA, Boston).

Outstanding Baker: Maura Kilpatrick (Sofra Bakery & Cafe). The Sofra Bakery pastry chef has been a regular presence on the James Beard Award nominations list since 2008, and was last named a James Beard finalist in 2019.

Outstanding Chef: Ana Sortun (Oleana). The talented chef at Oleana in Cambridge has also been a James Beard Award fixture, including multiple semifinalist and finalist nominations, and was named the winner of Best Chef: Northeast in 2005.

Outstanding Restaurateur: Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer (JK Food Group). The founders of JK Food Group, which includes Little Donkey, Toro, and Coppa, were nominated in this category in 2017 and 2018; Oringer won Best Chef: Northeast in 2001, while Bissonnette won Best Chef: Northeast in 2014.


Outstanding Wine Program: Grill23 and haley. henry. These two concepts both operate phenomenal wine programs, with Hugo Bensimon stepping into the wine director role at Grill23 earlier this year, and owner Haley Fortier leading the charge at haley.henry.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Irene Li (Mei Mei). The Mei Mei chef was a Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist from 2015 to 2019, and she’s back on the list in 2020 after an exciting year that included the release of Mei Mei’s first cookbook (another one is on the way).

Oustanding Bar Program: The Baldwin Bar. This Woburn cocktail bar attached to Sichuan Garden is led by Ran Duan, who is working on opening Ivory Pearl in Brookline, where he already runs the cocktail destination Blossom Bar.

Outstanding Hospitality: Mistral. Located in the South End, the stunning French bistro opened in 1997, and has been a fixture in Boston’s fine dining scene ever since.

Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of its America’s Classic award, six restaurants that included Manchester, New Hampshire fixture, Puritan Backroom.

Find the complete list of 2020 semifinalists here.


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