The James Beard Foundation announced its esteemed Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists for 2019 today. The list includes nominees in a range of categories, including Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Bar Program, and regional chef awards.
Among the acclaimed cooks named to the semifinalists in the Best Chef: West category is San Diego’s own Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins. The El Jardin chef is the only local nominee. Zepeda-Wilkins was Eater San Diego’s Chef of the Year in 2018 and was a key member of the culinary team at Bracero Cocina de Raiz when the now-shuttered Little Italy restaurant was a James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2016.
When reached for comment this morning, Zepeda-Wilkins shared, “I’ve always been acutely aware of the fragility of taking accolades or praise seriously. This one I’ll savor, and I’m extremely humbled that the James Beard Awards sees something in me to make me a semifinalist for Best Chef: West. On paper, this life of mine doesn’t make sense — teen mom on welfare 13 years ago and now here. This is already a win for people that see themselves in my story. The work is still just beginning and I have the best fucking job in the world.”
The semifinalist list will be whittled down to a group of five finalists per category after a vote from James Beard Awards judges and committee members. The finalists will be announced on Wednesday, March 27 at a press conference in Houston and the grand James Beard Awards Gala is scheduled for Monday, May 6 in Chicago.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media/Eater staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.