For the third year in a row, a Charleston chef took home the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southeast — a region that encompasses Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas and West Virginia.
This year the award went to Sean Brock — the extremely talented young man behind the stove at McCrady’s Restaurant. I spent a day with Brock for a story I wrote about him for Food Arts magazine, and was impressed with his unique and uniquely fun style of cooking. I was also amazed by his boundless energy in undertaking various food projects. He farms and raises a lot of his own produce biodynamically, he raises pigs, he cures meats, he imports and packages culinary chemicals (for advanced culinary techniques, such as spherification) and he has become deeply involved in seed saving — sourcing and cataloging heirloom varieties of beans, peas, corn and farro. I can see why he won.
Yet Brock’s win leaves Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten — both perennial nominees — without awards. Both men have been cited by Food & Wine magazine as best new chefs. And being repeated nominated isn’t exactly chump change.
I wonder if part of the issue is that judges nationwide can cast votes, and more of them have spent time dining in Charleston than in Atlanta. But I also wonder if Atlanta’s food scene is in a bit of a rut, while Charleston’s continues to get better. I’ve written about this subject before.
What do y’all think?