This morning, the James Beard Foundation announced the media, design, and restaurant and chef finalists for its coveted awards, which are akin to the Oscars for the food industry. For proud Coloradans, the good news is that Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder earned a finalist nod for Outstanding Service, its first nomination in this category; Frasca won the Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program in 2013 and chef-owner Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson took home the medal as Best Chef: Southwest in 2008. Their fellow nominees for service are Canlis in Seattle, Washington; Swan Oyster Depot and Saison in San Francisco, California; Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Brigsten’s in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Bobby Stuckey, Frasca’s master sommelier and co-owner, was on a run in Napa Valley when the news broke. “It was the best way to get interrupted from a morning run,” Stuckey says. “I took my phone out and sent a video to the team saying that I wish I was there to give them a big hug. Rose (Votta, general manager) and her team have quietly worked every day for this nomination, for the past 15 years. This is 100 percent for her and the team.”
Votta was enjoying a leisurely morning at home when she got the call. “It’s so exciting and I’m so proud of everyone on the team,” she says. “I was feeling pretty confident but now it feels so good. I consider it a win regardless of a medal.”
The disappointing news of the day was that Colorado’s seven other semifinalists—Q House (Best New Restaurant); Andy Clark of Moxie Bread Co. (Outstanding Baker); Jeb Breakell and Kelly Whitaker of the Wolf’s Tailor (Outstanding Pastry Chef and Best Chef: Southwest, respectively); Caroline Glover of Annette (Best Chef: Southwest); Element 47 at the Little Nell (Outstanding Wine Program); Todd and Scott Leopold of Leopold Bros. (Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer)—were shut out of the finalists’ pool.
It’s not easy going up against top-tier markets on the coasts in the national categories, and even competing for name recognition on a Best Chef: Southwest ballot against restaurants and chefs from buzzy cities like Austin and Houston, Texas. (Colorado and Texas—along with Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah—make up the Beard’s Southwest voting region.)
It’s also typical that most James Beard Award medal-holders are disappointed nominees several times over before hearing their name called at the gala awards ceremony. Alex Seidel, who won the 2018 Best Chef: Southwest title for his work at Mercantile Dining & Provision, had been previously nominated five times, and Element 47 at the Little Nell is also a five-time nominee for Outstanding Wine Program (as well as being nominated in other categories numerous times).
Does any of that lessen the sting of being left off the prestigious finalists’ list in 2019? No. Especially when you consider the talent and expertise that Colorado’s food professionals exhibit each and every day. Until that time when they are more deeply and widely recognized, we will cross our fingers for Frasca and hope that it receives its due at the awards gala on May 6.