WALLA WALLA — Chris Ainsworth, owner and chef at Walla Walla’s Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, is savoring another run as a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation award.
Ainsworth is one of 20 semifinalists selected to vie for the honor of top chef in the Northwest. It is his fifth consecutive year as a semifinalist for the recognition in what is viewed as the Oscars of food. The Northwest category, one of 20 announced Tuesday, includes chefs from Alaska to Wyoming. Ainsworth is the only chef selected from Eastern Washington. He and his wife, Island Ainsworth, own Saffron, 125 W. Alder St.
Five nominees will be chosen in the various categories. Those nominees will be announced March 18 at a press brunch in Charleston, S.C.
The black-tie awards ceremony and gala reception will take place at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City on May 6. The event will include a dishes from the country’s top culinary talent and reflective of this year’s awards theme: “Lights. Camera. Taste! Spotlight on Food & Film.” The theme is a tribute to the role food play’s in America’s most iconic films.
The annual awards are designed to celebrate all aspects of the industry — from chefs and restaurateurs to cookbook authors and restaurant architects. The awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America.
Semifinalists for each of the 20 categories were selected from more than 44,000 entries. The James Beard Foundation — founded in 1986 in honor of the cookbook author teacher and champion of American cuisine — held an open online call for entries starting mid October. The nominating ballot of semifinalists was created by the Restaurant and Chef Committee based on the results and eligibility requirements for each award.
The list of semifinalists will be sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from across the country, according to the foundation. The panel includes leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past winners. They will vote on the specific categories to determine the five nominees in each. The same judges will then vote on winners.
Apart from the 10 regional top chef categories others are outstanding restaurant, rising star chef of the year, outstanding service, outstanding wine, spirits or beer professional, outstanding bar program and best new restaurant, among others.