Locally Grown

The Name’s Beard, James Beard (Awards)

Another Monday is upon us, greeting some of us with in warm wash of sunshine on our shoulders (which reportedly makes people happy), and climbing on the backs of others.  Whatever, it’s just Monday (although I hear Tuesday is just as bad), and it will pass.  It’s funny how even though many of us who are employed in the food industry consider ACTUAL Monday as our perceived Saturday or Sunday, Monday still holds in it’s grubby little paws the same lack of appeal and hardships as it does for those of you who are kicking it Monday through Friday style.  It could have something to do with trying to keep up with the weekend festivities that the rest of the “normal” work force are partaking in while also trying to keep our “shit” together as we work the busy, grueling (well, I hope it’s busy and grueling for everyone) Friday and Saturday shifts…and some of you REALLY lucky folks get the benefit of working Sunday Morning duh duh duuuuuuh…..Brunch.   What’s the point?  I forget, honestly.  Something about the Equal Opportunity nature of Monday’s wiles.  Um…lost it.

I heard from a local source that it is again time for The 2011 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards nomination process to begin.  This is an exciting time of the year for Chefs around the country, as getting a JBA is akin to winning an Oscar for your food.  (I was planning on making some kind of beard joke here, but that would be disrespectful to one of the greatest culinarians…ever).  (ok, I am just going to go ahead with the joke).

Although a righteous beard, it is not the kind we are talking about here.


Personally, I don’t get very excited about the James Beard Awards, as I will never be on that level and the chances of a chef from Our Fair City nabbing the Best Chef award from the grips of someone from a larger city in our region (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI) are more than slim.  It’s still fun to watch and speculate.  Kansas City, Minneapolis, Madison, and Milwaukee all have some great chefs, so what do we have?  Here are the guidelines for the award, from the James Beard Foundation web site:

Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Candidates may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been working as a chef for at least five years with the three most recent years spent in the region.

I think two-time Cochon555 winner Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, Iowa is going to be my first pick.  Chef Steigerwald has decimated the competition at Cochon and managed to get a 5 star review in the Datebook.  He has definitely set both new and consistent standards in our region (especially in Iowa), and meets the time in service constraints.  His staff is knowledgeable, respectful, and super nice.  At Cochon 2008, Chef Steigerwald’s people made me a great vegetarian dinner from the ingredients they were using for the competition dishes.  Great Stuff.

Second Choice, George Formaro.  George has done more to change the face of dining in Des Moines more than any other chef/business owner in the last decade.  He is the drive behind such local favorites as South Union Bread Cafe, Django, Centro,Jorge’s Tacos (at the Downtown Farmer’s Market), and Gateway Market not to mention that his South Union Bakery makes the bread served by most of the better restaurants in central Iowa.  I would really like to see George step back from his enormous machine and take a year to operate ONLY one small (fifty=ish seats) restaurant.  I would wager that it would be quite an experience for diners and Chef Formaro alike.

Those are my choices for this year.  Who are yours?  Discuss.


The Cook


14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

yep – not the same beard At All… but I bet that beard has been in competition also!! 😀

Comment by spabettie

If it hasn’t, the owner of said beard is doing himself a great disservice.

Comment by locallygrown

I haven’t been in Des Moines long enough to throw out any nominations here, though your recommendations seem valid. I will back the same horse I have for the last several years, Colby Garelts of blustem in Kansas City…he’s gotta win eventually right?

The Server

Comment by The Server

Chef Garrelts, from what I have read in the last 24 hours, seems to fit the profile. I think it is time to take Mrs. Cook down to KC for a little visit to Bluestem to see what we have been missing.

Comment by locallygrown

While you’re there check out past Beard winners

Celina Tio of Julian (also appearing on “The Next Iron Chef”)
Michael Smith of Michael Smith’s and Extra Virgin
and Debbie Gold of The American Restaurant

Comment by The Server

Hey, off topic a bit, but noticed in the most recent Relish that you still work at Zen….isn’t it a little lonely in there? Is there more than one?


Comment by InthewaterDSM

I haven’t seen the new issue yet, and I haven’t seen any copies in the normal places that carry that wonderful publication. I think there’s a conspiracy to keep it out of my grubby little hands.

No, I don’t work at Zen, everyone (besides Relish) knows that it is closed. I DID however stop by this afternoon and stand in the empty shell of what used to be my Sushi restaurant, and yes…it was awfully lonely. Glad my job isn’t to stand there by myself for 10 to 13 hours a day.

Comment by locallygrown

I looked at a digital copy on the cityview site. Have not seen it in print yet, maybe someone will catch it.

Also, what were you doing inside the empty ZEN space? They come up with anything for the location yet?

Comment by InthewaterDSM

I just stopped by to visit Azalea. I do their Twitter account still, so it’s fun to get some face time with Sean and his crew, find out what’s going on in the place. I know who is looking at getting into the Zen spot, but that news is up to the new proprietor to break. I would hate to steal a restaurateur’s thunder by “scooping” them.

Comment by locallygrown

Totally understand…hoping for something cool in that spot.

Comment by InthewaterDSM

I have been to a few james beard awards as a student and a visitor over the past 5 years or so. No offense to many of the chefs like Formaro and Steigerwald, but I think that WI or MN will steal the show this year, it is always awesome to get nominated and make it at least on the list of nominees, however if it is someone from Iowa, I could see Mcdowell in Iowa City, or maybe one or 2 others that really strive for perfection. The problem is the awards don’t necessarily translate to what you or most “midwesterners” eat. It is the American version of gault millau and oscars mixed into one. These aren’t just the best restaurants you eat at, they have to be leading the trends. That means over the past few years they should have been ahead of the trends of sustainability, plate design, flavor concepts and profiles. I think some of the chefs in this city are great and I’m sure soon we will capture an award. Look at how far we have come in just 10 years.

I like to think of Des Moines as the next Portland area, for a long time they were never known for food and even Oregon wasn’t known for good wine, but slowly they have proven themselves. It will take some time for Des Moines to adapt into being a secondary market to Chicago just as Portland is to SF, but we are making strides and I can see 5 years from now a lot will be different.

Comment by Mr. Clayhood

Agreed. Fully.

Comment by locallygrown

Oh Em Gee. If who is going to go into the old Zen spot is who I heard about awhile ago, I will be SO F’N EXCITED!

Of course, that was 6+ months ago, so who knows if I’m even on the right track…

Comment by maria

Chef’s Table… really? I live in Iowa City and I’ve been disappointed most visits. I can see Devotay or Orchard Green before Chef’s Table

Comment by rozz01

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