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The 2018 James Beard Award Short List Includes 5 Colorado Finalists

A Centennial State chef, restaurant, wine program, publication, and architecture firm remain in the running for medals at the Chicago gala on May 7.

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The list broke Wednesday morning: The finalists for the 2018 James Beard Awards were posted via live Tweet, and phones across the country blew up with the news.

Sitting on an airplane en route to Denver from New York City, Frasca Food and Wine co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey was frantically refreshing his Twitter feed on his laptop. Alex Seidel, chef-owner of Mercantile Dining & Provision and Fruition, was also on a plane, albeit fast asleep, returning home from a cooking event in Miami. Carlton McCoy, the wine director and master sommelier at Aspen’s the Little Nell, was exercising. And Amanda Arguello, an interior designer for Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects, was in an offsite meeting, as was High Country News’ editor-in-chief, Brian Calvert. (We assume award-winning writer Julia O’Malley was just waking up in Alaska.)

Each was ecstatic upon learning that they had earned a nomination as a James Beard Award finalist. To make that short list is an incredible honor, and it’s a proud moment for Colorado to have five local pros and brands honored in this way.

After the final refresh of his Twitter feed on the airplane, Stuckey emailed his wife, Danette, and the team at Frasca. “I couldn’t call anyone because I was on the plane,” says Stuckey. “The poor guy I was sitting next to must have thought I was the weirdest dude ever.”

As a finalist for the biggest award of the year—Outstanding Restaurant—the Frasca team waited to toast to the news until last night, when all of the managers were at the restaurant. In Chicago, where the awards gala takes place on May 7, the Frasca tradition is to don their black-tie best and drink a few beers at dive bar extraordinaire, Rossi’s Liquors, before the show. “I won’t plan anything for after [the gala] because then I’ll feel like I jinxed us,” says Stuckey. “It’s just so awesome for Colorado, all of the nominations. The Nell deserves to be on that list so badly, and it’s great Alex was nominated. I think it’s going to be helpful to the entire state.”

Seidel, a finalist for Best Chef: Southwest, slept through his flight to DIA, but was happy to see his phone overflowing with well-wishes and messages from his team and industry pros when he landed. Did he have fun celebrating the nomination? Not yet—he hasn’t had a chance. Seidel went straight from the airport to a full day working at Fruition and then Mercantile, finally crashing into bed around 9 p.m. on Wednesday night. In fact, his wife, Melissa, didn’t know her husband was a Best Chef finalist until Thursday morning, when Seidel asked her if she wanted to go to Chicago in May. “Why Chicago?” she asked.

The Seidels plan to attend the gala with partners Matt Vawter and Dan Skvarca. “We’ve been talking about a trip to celebrate 3 1/2 years at Mercantile,” Seidel says, “and this will be a good way to celebrate many things together. I believe this is recognition for our entire team. And it’s so exciting to see the way our city has grown, our community has grown.”

McCoy’s fellow sommeliers at the Little Nell, nominated for Outstanding Wine Program, were the ones who texted him the news. “I hope the third time is the charm,” McCoy says, whose program has been nominated twice before, in 2014 and 2016. “To reach the finals is such a massive honor. It’s your peers voting for you, so it’s the most important award we can receive for the wine program. It’s great to know what the industry thinks.” 

The Little Nell team celebrated by doing what they do best: drinking wine. A 1974 Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir, to be precise. But that’s all the partying they’ll do for now. “I told my team there’s no celebrating until after the awards gala,” McCoy says. “We are from Colorado, so we’ll work out first. We’re going to take a nice, long run around the city when we get there. Then, we hope to celebrate with the Crown family [owners of the Little Nell], who are based in Chicago. It’s an award for them, too. We hope to drink some absolutely fine wines with them.”

Arguello, the Shears Adkins interior designer who worked on the Preacher’s Son, the Bentonville, Arkansas, restaurant for which the Denver firm has earned an Outstanding Restaurant Design nomination, was driving home after a long day of meetings. The news was a total shock to Arguello and the rest of the Shears Adkins team, who weren’t even aware they’d been put up for the award by Austin-based identity branding firm Foda Studio, with whom they worked on the restaurant project. “We don’t even know what’s up or down right now,” Arguello says, “but it was an amazing group of people and an extraordinary effort from multiple teams that made this happen. The project is singing because of the exciting energy that everyone involved put into it.”

A staffer posted on High Country News’ Slack #impactmention channel about their nomination for the Foodways Journalism Award for Julia O’Malley’s story, “The Teenage Whaler’s Tale.” “It was very surprising because we don’t think about ourselves as writing about food,” says Calvert. “The story came from an initiative started about a year ago to consciously tell three-dimensional stories from Indian country. We are really proud of it and it’s great that it’s being recognized for skillful writing and editing.” Calvert hasn’t had time to decide which staffers might attend the awards gala. “I have a very good friend in Chicago, so when I’m there, I usually hole up with him,” chuckles Calvert. “But I imagine we can get some people out there and pre-game with other media folks.”

Our fingers are crossed for all of the Colorado finalists, just as our pride for local semifinalists Dana Rodriguez (Work & Class), Caroline Glover (Annette), Todd Leopold (Leopold Bros.), and Andy Clark (Moxie Bakery) remains undiminished. Stay tuned for more after the awards gala on May 7.

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