The nation’s restaurant community lives for this time of year. Why? Because semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards were announced this morning. Colorado gobbled up eight nods, including two Best Chef: Southwest nominations. The mentions represent Denver, Louisville, Boulder, Aurora, and Aspen and indicate the depth of our dining scene. “Colorado deserves to be the talk all the time now,” says Bobby Stuckey, Frasca’s master sommelier and multiyear nominee and award winner.

Here’s the lineup:

Best New Restaurant: Q House, Denver
Outstanding Baker: Andy ClarkMoxie Bread Co., Louisville
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Jeb Breakellthe Wolf’s Tailor, Denver
Outstanding Service: Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder
Outstanding Wine Program: Element 47 at the Little Nell, Aspen
Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer: Todd Leopold and Scott LeopoldLeopold Bros., Denver
Best Chef: Southwest: Caroline GloverAnnette, Aurora and Kelly Whitakerthe Wolf’s Tailor, Denver

As with every year’s list, there are new places and faces (Q House; Breakell and Whitaker from the Wolf’s Tailor) mixed with staples (Frasca and Element 47). Taken as a whole, the noms paint a picture of Colorado’s ever-strengthening restaurant landscape. “Seeing everything from well established restaurants to small up-and-coming spots with ambitious chefs, that shows the maturity of a dining scene,” says master sommelier Carlton McCoy of Element 47. The nod comes at an interesting time for McCoy, who earlier this month announced that, after eight and half years, he’s leaving the Nell to become the president and CEO of Cellar in Napa. “I can only hope the industry gives me the greatest going-away present,” he jokes.

Breakell, who is a first-time semifinalist, also speaks to Colorado’s emergence as a dining destination. “This is a great sign that things are going in the right direction, and I hope it continues to bring more talent here,” he says. “We can’t do anything without the cooks that want to be here and help cook our food.”

As with Breakell, Glover, who received her second Best Chef: Southwest nod this year, underscores that receiving such accolades is the result of a team effort. “It’s my name on there but it’s the team behind [the restaurant] that puts in all the work to make it run. When I see ‘Annette,’ that feels right.”

Leopold, a two-time nominee for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer, is almost sheepish that just his and his brother Scott’s names appear on the list. “We don’t do this stuff alone. I wish it was just ‘the distillery,’” he says.

Whitaker, a first-time semifinalist, was surprised and humbled by the announcement. “We rolled the dice on a lot of big ideas in this group. [The Wolf’s Tailor] is more than a restaurant,” he says. “We’re trying to do something and I want it to work for our people, our staff, our lifestyle, my wife, and show that it can done here in the U.S.”

The parade of Beard Award nominations does more than just spread kudos across the nation, it also establishes a punch list for interested diners and industry insiders. “I love looking at the Best New Restaurants list around the country, it becomes my list of places to go,” Glover says. If you haven’t been to the nominated spots (here, there, and everywhere), it’s high-time to check them out and offer your congratulations.

Finalists will be announced on March 27; we’ll report on which Coloradans made the cut at that time.

Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.