It’s been seven years since City House owner Tandy Wilson won the best chef, Southeast category of the James Beard Awards, one of the most prestigious honors in the food world. Did he break a mirror at the after-party or something? Because after last night’s ceremony in Chicago, Wilson remains the only Nashville chef to claim such an accolade. Eater has the full list of winners for 2023.
While Nashville started this year’s process with a handful of semifinalists — including Clinton Gray, Derrick Moore, and Emanuel Reed of Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria in the national category for outstanding restaurateur — all but one of Music City’s contenders were cut when the list of finalists, aka nominees, came out.
Josh Habiger of Bastion, a combination of casual cocktail bar and fine dining restaurant in Wedgewood-Houston, was Nashville’s last hope for a local winner this year, facing off against other regional finalists in the best chef, Southeast category. Ultimately, Terry Koval of the Deer and the Dove in Decatur, Georgia, took home that prize. Last year’s outcome was similar as sole Nashville finalist Philip Krajeck of Rolf and Daughters lost the Southeast category to Ricky Moore from Durham, North Carolina.
While Wilson is still the only local chef to win a Beard Award, generally considered the Oscars of the restaurant industry, the James Beard Foundation has previously named two Nashville restaurants as America’s Classics, which honors “locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.” Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which created the iconic Nashville hot chicken, received that designation in 2013, while Arnold’s Country Kitchen, which closed at the beginning of 2023, got the honor in 2009.
The James Beard Awards aren’t without controversy; the latest drama came this year as a result of the foundation’s flawed new process of “vetting” nominees accused of bad behavior. And in a surprising development, even major cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin were shut out of the awards this year, so Nashville’s in good company. Still, acknowledgment from the organization commands a lot of respect within the industry, and it’s been a long drought for Music City.