The semifinalists for the James Beard Awards (the Oscars of the chef and restaurant world) have been announced and three Kansas City chefs are in the running. The American Restaurant’s pastry chef Nick Wesemann (he of the Nickers bar) has been nominated in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category and Room 39’s Ted Habiger and The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange’s Howard Hanna are both semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category.
“I’m still kind of just flabbergasted but excited,” Wesemann says of the announcement this morning. “There is still only one category for pastry chefs, it isn’t broken down into regions like the best chefs are. There are a lot of big names on this list Dominique Ansel, Christina Tosi, Jennifer Yee, just to name a few. So it’s pretty awesome to be on a list along with all of them.”
Habiger and Bluestem/Rye’s Colby Garrelts were named semifinalists two years ago. Habiger was also nominated in 2009. Garrelts took home the Best Chef: Midwest award in 2013.
“This is something no one can take away from you,” Habiger says. “It’s really a testament to our staff and my business partner, Andy Sloan. I hope we can move on the next round, but our biggest reward is when people come into the restaurant every day.”
While Habiger’s phone was inundated with congratulatory texts, Hanna found out that he was nominated this year via Tweet.
“I saw somebody I didn’t know type it on Twitter,” Hanna says. “It was on the back of my mind. Obviously, we watch these things, but I had been trying not to think about it.”
Hanna has cooked twice previously for dinners at the James Beard House — Habiger and Sloan cooked there last March — and received a scholarship from the James Beard Foundation to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
“The James Beard Awards are a lifetime goal for me,” Hanna says. “Colby [Garrelts] told me that this life is a marathon, not a sprint. And I really believe that. So this is a good step, but it’s just a step. I’ve got to execute lunch today.”
The finalists will be announced on March 19 and the Awards ceremony will be held in two parts in New York City. The journalism, media and book awards are given out on May 2 and the restaurant and chef awards ceremony is set for May 5.[Images via Facebook: The American and The Rieger]