The James Beard Foundation Award’s semifinalists list arrived today, February 23, and one San Diego restaurant is being recognized for the significant contributions of its executive chef to the culinary landscape in California. Chef Anthony Wells of Little Italy’s Juniper & Ivy has been named a Best Chef, California semifinalist.
This year marks the return of the James Beard Foundation Awards, a program generally viewed as the most prestigious awards in the industry: In August 2020, the foundation announced that it would not be awarding winners from its previously released finalists list, citing difficulties from the ongoing pandemic; a New York Times report indicated its cancellation also pointed to discord over nominees who had allegations surfacing from workers in their restaurants and the lack of Black winners. In 2021, the Awards were also canceled as the foundation continued to audit its own ethics policies, voting practices, and overall approach to selecting winners for its categories.
In its almost eight years serving local and visiting diners in San Diego, Juniper & Ivy has become known for its relationship with local farmers and fishermen; much of its creative direction and culinary approach has been informed by Wells, who recently revamped the winter menu.
Wells, who started as the restaurant’s sous chef when it opened in March 2014 before becoming chef de cuisine and, finally, its executive chef, announced in May 2021 that he would be shifting to a culinary director role, staying on for a year before moving on to open his own fine-dining restaurant. Juniper & Ivy launched a national search for its next executive chef and in June 2021 selected Seattle chef Jason Franey to take over Wells’s role. Franey departed the kitchen after four months and Wells returned to his position as executive chef last fall.
“Anthony Wells will remain as head of the kitchen and is committed to pushing boundaries as before and will stay on as executive chef for a minimum of a year, if not longer. Anthony’s menu will continue to evolve based on what’s fresh and available seasonally and the strong connections in the community he’s fostered over the years,” the restaurant wrote in a press release.
A rep for the restaurant tells Eater that when Wells pivots away to open his own restaurant, there is a possibility that Juniper & Ivy owner Mike Rosen will be involved in some capacity.
Finalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards will be announced on March 16; winners will be presented with awards in a ceremony in Chicago on June 13.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.