Two chefs with Palm Beach County restaurants are among the contenders for this year’s coveted James Beard Awards, a prize that’s often called “the Oscars of food.”
Acclaimed Palm Beach chef Clay Conley, who revolutionized the island’s dining scene when he opened Buccan modern bistro in 2011, earned a spot on the semifinalist list for 2022 “Best Chef” in the South, according to the full semifinalist lineup announced Wednesday by the James Beard Foundation. This is the sixth time in the past 10 years that Conley has made the semifinals list.
“It’s an honor. It’s nice to be mentioned,” Conley told The Post. He learned the news while in a meeting, when he noticed a barrage of messages on his phone. “I had no idea what was going on.”
Conley recently entered his 11th year at Buccan much in the same way as he did his first year: creatively. He continues to explore flavor combos and take inspiration from places he’s visited and new seasons.
“We’re always trying to keep fresh, keep the food fresh and the facilities fresh,” said Conley, whose previous semifinalist nods for best chef in the South came in 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019. “It’s about constantly doing.”
Conley is joined on the “Best Chef” in the South semifinals list by Jeremy Ford, the Miami-based celebrity chef who recently opened The Butcher’s Club steakhouse at the PGA National Resort. Ford, a Bravo TV “Top Chef” winner who hosts the truTV series “Fast Foodies,” is chef/owner of Miami Beach’s Stubborn Seed restaurant.
“I’m humbled to be included among such incredible culinary talent and happy that my unbelievable team at Stubborn Seed is getting its recognition for all their amazing work,” Ford said by text. “Dreams do come true with relentless passion & love.”
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Chefs from four other Miami area restaurants also received semifinalist nods for “Best Chef” in the South category. They are Michael Pirolo of Macchialina in Miami Beach, Michael Beltran of Ariete in Coconut Grove, Niven Patel of Ghee Indian Kitchen in Kendall and the team of Valerie Chang, Nando Chang and Fernando Chang of Itamae in Miami. One other Florida chef made that list: Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi in Orlando.
Miami-Dade County was well represented on the full list of semifinalists.
• Iconic Miami chef Michael Schwartz (Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink) earned a semifinals position for “Outstanding Chef” in the nation.
• Asian-inspired Zitz Sum restaurant in Coral Gables is among the national contenders for “Best New Restaurant.”
• Little Havana’s Café La Trova, where star chef Michelle Bernstein helms the kitchen and acclaimed bartender Julio Cabrera runs the lively cocktail lineup, is up for “Outstanding Bar Program.”
• Pastry chef Antonio Bachour, who has bakeries in Coral Gables and Doral, is among the national semifinalists for “Outstanding Pastry Chef.”
• Baker Zak Stern of Wynwood’s Zak the Baker is up for “Outstanding Baker.”
Two Orlando culinary figures earned semifinalist spots as well: Jason and Sue Chin of the Good Salt Restaurant Group (for “Outstanding Restaurateur”) and Four Seasons pastry chef Rabii Saber (for “Outstanding Pastry Chef”).
This year’s James Beard honors will be the first to be awarded since 2019. The James Beard Foundation canceled its traditional awards due to pandemic-related difficulties in 2020 and 2021.