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Owamni wins best new restaurant at James Beard Awards –

CHICAGO — Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, the proprietors of the groundbreaking Minneapolis restaurant Owamni, won the highly competitive national honor of Best New Restaurant at the James Beard Awards on Monday night in Chicago.

The category recognizes a restaurant that “opened in 2020 or 2021 that already demonstrates excellence in cuisine and hospitality and seems likely to make a significant impact in years to come.” Owamni opened in 2021 to national acclaim and was named the Star Tribune’s Restaurant of the Year.

But Minneapolis chefs came up empty-handed at the James Beard Awards, the food world’s top honors, held Monday in Chicago.

Three chefs from the Twin Cities — Sherman, Petite León‘s Jorge Guzmán and Union Hmong Kitchen‘s Yia Vang — had been nominated for Best Chef: Midwest, but lost to Dane Baldwin, of the Diplomat in Milwaukee.

The regional award celebrates the “culinary skills and leadership abilities” of chefs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The category had six nominees, evenly split between Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Baldwin, who said he visited the Twin Cities once, told the Star Tribune he would love to see a Twin Cities-Milwaukee collaboration.

Minnesota-based television personality Andrew Zimmern introduced the Midwest category, quoting Prince. “I have reached an age and familiarity with this thing called life, to quote my favorite late-great Minneapolitan,” Zimmern said, “where I can say, as huge and scary as our problems may be — and, yes, we still have some doozies we need to solve — it’s vitally important we remember the good stories of our industry.”

Zimmern saluted the workers and farmers who are integral to the survival of restaurants. “It’s so important to salute those people, tell their stories, and enjoy our victories and pleasures, too. So it is my honor to present this award to those people who are bringing joy and great food to the place that I call home.”

Culinary stars and rising talent from around the country converged at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House for the first time since 2019 for the black-tie ceremony. The high-profile awards, often referred to as the Oscars for food, recognize and celebrate excellence in restaurants, cookbooks and journalism over a weekend of events.

At the media awards Saturday, one Minnesotan took home a prize. The forager chef Alan Bergo launched a video series during the pandemic, “The Wild Harvest with Alan Bergo.” It won the James Beard Award for Instructional Video Series.

The New York City-based James Beard Foundation, named for the influential culinarian and cookbook author, established its awards program in 1990.

The awards returned after a two-year hiatus brought on by the pandemic and an internal reckoning at the foundation over diversity. During that time, the foundation audited its policies and procedures in an aim to increase transparency, avoid bias and better reflect the diversity of the hospitality industry. Speaking at the event, foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach called it “a fundamental review, overhaul of our awards program and more.”

This year’s event celebrated heartily the end of two years of hardship for the hospitality industry. Early winners represented the contributions of immigrants in the industry, naming Edgar Rico of Austin’s Nixta Taqueria as Emerging Chef and Detroit pastry chef Warda Bouguettaya of Warda Pâtisserie as Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Cookbook author Grace Young was recognized as Humanitarian of the Year for her work in preserving and protecting Chinatowns during the pandemic by bringing attention to the plight of these small businesses, building an oral history of the dark days of 2020.

Earlier, on the red carpet, Zimmern spoke about the foundation’s soul searching and the awards’ push to diversify its honorees as an opportunity to “recognize people who have been so deserving for so long — whole classifications and swaths of human beings who toil away in our industry, who are no longer unrecognizable unless they last three generations and are an ‘America’s Classic.’ ” (The America’s Classics award honors restaurants that are pillars in their communities. Past winners from Minnesota include Al’s Breakfast and Kramarczuk’s.)

Zimmern also spoke of the transformational power of the award for a first-time nominee or a chef early in their career. “There are several people nominated there that, if they win, would be a major statement,” he said. He called out Vang in particular, whose forthcoming Minneapolis restaurant Vinai is named after the refugee camp where he was born. “That’s an incredible, incredible story,” Zimmern said.

This content was originally published here.

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