The James Beard Foundation held its annual awards ceremony in Chicago on June 13, and finalists Ticonderoga Club, chef Kevin Gillespie (Gunshow, Revival), and pastry chef Claudia Martinez of Miller Union represented Atlanta in the Outstanding Hospitality, Outstanding Restaurateur, and Outstanding Pastry Chef categories respectively this year.
Sadly, none of the three Atlanta finalists were awarded a coveted James Beard medal, but it was still a celebratory evening nonetheless, which marks the return of the “Oscars of the food world” after the foundation canceled events in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Beyond Gillespie and Martinez, eight other Atlanta chefs were named semifinalists back in February by the James Beard Foundation, including Mia Orino and Carlo Gan of Filipino restaurant and pop-up Kamayan ATL for Emerging Chef, Jason Liang of Brush Sushi Izakaya, Craig Richards of Lyla Lila, and Joey Ward of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy for Best Chef: Southeast, and Jen Yee for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Todd Richards and Joshua Lee were named semifinalists for Outstanding Restaurateur and Midtown restaurant Lyla Lila, co-owned by Craig Richards, was also named a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine Program.
The original location of Chai Pani in Asheville, North Carolina, owned by chef Meherwan Irani, was awarded the medal for Outstanding Restaurant. In 2013, Irani opened a second location of the Indian street food restaurant in Decatur, Georgia, just east of Atlanta. Irani also owns Botiwalla and Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken at Ponce City Market.
Former Atlanta chef Adam Evans took home the Best Chef: South award for his Birmingham, Alabama, restaurant Automatic Seafood and Oysters. Evans, who worked at both Ford Fry’s the Optimist and chef Jonathan Waxman’s Brezza Cucina in Atlanta, grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He left Brezza Cucina in 2016 to open Automatic Seafood with his wife and interior designer, Suzanne Humphries Evans, in what was the former home of Automatic Sprinkler Co. in Birmingham.
Mashama Bailey of critically acclaimed restaurant the Grey in Savannah won the award for Outstanding Chef. Bailey was previously awarded a medal in 2019 for Best Chef Southeast.
On Saturday, June 11, Atlanta-based publication The Bitter Southerner was awarded a James Beard for Food Coverage in a General Interest Publication during the media awards.
But the Atlanta restaurant community did nab at least one James Beard award this year.
In February, soul food restaurant Busy Bee Cafe was recognized by the foundation with an America’s Classics award. The annual award honors independent and family-owned restaurants throughout the country that are more than a decade old and exhibit “timeless appeal.”
First opened by Lucy Jackson 75 years ago on Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in the Vine City neighborhood, Busy Bee Cafe once served as a meeting place and refueling stop for Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Joseph Lowery. It’s since grown into one of Atlanta’s restaurant institutions, known for its legendary fried chicken. Busy Bee Cafe is now owned by Tracey Gates, whose family took over the business in the 1980s.
All six of the America’s Classics award winners were honored during the June 13 ceremony in Chicago.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.