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February 27, 2020

What does a James Beard Award really mean?

Charlotte hasn’t won one yet. Does it matter?

Yesterday was a big day in the restaurant world, as the James Beard Foundation released its annual awards semifinalist list. Two Charlotte chefs earned recognition in the Best Chef: Southeast category, both repeats on the list from last year. Joe Kindred (Kindred Restaurant and Hello, Sailor) took his fifth straight nomination, and Greg Collier (The Yolk) his second.

Charlotteans have long lamented we don’t have a James Beard Award-winning chef. And while it’s certainly a chip on the city’s shoulder, how much does that really matter?

We spoke to Greg Collier last year not long after his first semifinalist nod about what changes he experienced after the recognition. He said the honor made folks more interested in what he’s doing, but also meant more people wanted more of his time. Katy Kindred told me in an interview for another story that in the Kindreds’ experience, becoming a semifinalist didn’t change business as much as recognition in local and national media.

As a city, we’ve been seeking validation for our culinary scene — something that says we’re finally respected as a food town, and not stuck with the reputation of a steak and potatoes kind of place. I think we’re seeing that validation more often now, through local chefs’ presence in national publications and on TV. But nothing would say we’ve made it like that James Beard Foundation medal hanging on a restaurant wall.

So congrats to chefs Joe and Greg! Perhaps this will be the year. —Kristen Wile

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