According to the James Beard Foundation, the annual James Beard Awards are “the Oscars of the food world.” Translation: They’re a very big deal. And this year, seven Colorado restaurateurs, chefs, and restaurants are up for awards in various categories. While none of the names of the semifinalists are particularly shocking (most have been nominated—and some have won—before), it’s still a highly coveted distinction for anyone in the industry. We asked these locals how it feels to be recognized amongst the best culinary talent in the nation.

Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, and Stoic & Genuine

Nominated For: Outstanding Chef

“I was blown away this morning when I found out. The outstanding chef award is a national award, and to be nominated and on the semifinalist list is a great honor. I am one of 16 chefs in the country to be on the list. This is huge for me and our whole crew and family at Rioja and all our Crafted Concepts restaurants. I am not sure if it will bring people in now, but eventually it does and this is great!”

Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder)

Nominated For: Outstanding Restaurant

“To be up for a the national award like this is very humbling. For us, it’s just the process of showing up every day and working hard, and this makes us want to work that much harder. In other cities, there is more of a dialogue about these things, but each year here in Colorado that dialogue grows. It’s just great for all of Colorado.” —Bobby Stuckey, Frasca’s co-owner and master sommelier

Frank Bonanno of Mizuna, Luca, Osteria Marco, Bones, Green Russell, Russell’s Smoke House, Vesper Lounge, Salt & Grinder, Lou’s Food Bar, and Wednesday’s Pie

Nominated For: Outstanding Restaurateur

“It doesn’t really do a lot for business, but it’s so wonderful to be recognized by such a venerable institution. Kind of the gold standard in the industry. And I couldn’t ask for better company!”

Element 47, the Little Nell (Aspen)

Nominated For: Outstanding Wine Program

“We are very fortunate at the Nell to have received a long list of accolades for the work that our team does. The James Beard nomination holds a special place in our hearts, as this is an award that is offered by our peers. We work incredibly hard to train our team to maintain incredibly high standards, and it would be a great honor to bring this home for them!” —Carlton McCoy, the Little Nell’s wine director and master sommelier

Steven Redzikowski of Acorn, Oak at Fourteenth, and Brider

Nominated For: Best Chef Southwest

“What a great feeling it is to be mentioned on this list. But more importantly, it is about our teams at Oak, Acorn, and Brider. Thank you, guys!”

Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class

Nominated For: Best Chef Southwest

“It’s just so emotional to be a semifinalist considering how I got my start. I just can’t believe this is happening. Nineteen years ago I was doing dishes at Panzano. I appreciate all the people who’ve helped me get here, but really it’s the whole team, not just one person wins. People have this image of the chef running the whole restaurant, but I’m here because of the team—the dishwashers, the bartenders, everyone. Maybe I will never win the award because at Work & Class we don’t really do fine dining, but I’m glad that the Foundation sees that a chef doesn’t need to be doing fine dining to be making great food.”

Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant, Mercantile Dining & Provision, and Fruition Farms

Nominated For: Best Chef Southwest

“It really is an honor to be included on this list. I have seen several chefs nominated from Colorado over these last nine years, and of course, we saw Jen [Jasinski] win this award a few years ago. I think this year there are seven restaurants that are recognized from our state, when nine years ago, there were only a few. I am grateful to the people that I have worked with over these years that have contributed to building the reputations and crafting the experiences at both Fruition and Mercantile. More so than anything, it is a great reward for all of the effort that goes into building our food culture here in Colorado.”

Stay tuned: The finalists for the James Beard Awards will be announced on March 15.

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.