The 2019 James Beard Awards ceremony — the Met Gala of the food world, the Oscars of gastronomy, and so on — has just wrapped in Chicago. Judges winnowed a long list of semifinalists to a shorter list of finalists, and finally, presenters (including Bay Area locals like Tonya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen and Ayesha Curry of International Smoke) dispensed the medals at a black tie ceremony. Here’s who triumphed from San Francisco:
Bar Agricole, nominated every year since 2012, finally took home the award for outstanding bar program. Accepting that, owner Thad Vogler thanked partners Eric Johnson and Andreas Willausch. “Eighth time’s a charm,” joked Vogler, who also thanked his investors and producers. “We mix things made by other people, so we’re only as good as those things,” said Vogler. “We work with a lot of small producers who really take risks to work with us.”
Schwartz and Architecture (S^A) won a design award in the “quick bite to eat” or “other” category for their work on El Pípila, a SoMa Mexican restaurant and La Cocina alum. The project was the firm’s very first complete restaurant project. “We’re thrilled to be a part of the La Cocina and El Pipila family” said the firm’s principal, Neal Schwartz.
Benu won in the Outstanding Wine Program Category, with the award accepted by Benu’s master sommelier Yoon Ha. “I’d like to accept this award on behalf of the entire team in San Francisco,” said Ha, who thanked chef Corey Lee above all.
In a touching 2012 interview with Eater, Ha recalls meeting Lee in Napa, when Lee worked at the French Laundry and Ha worked at La Toque. “To have two Korean Americans working in our field in Napa Valley was really rare,” Ha said. Growing up the child of immigrants, Ha said he was self-conscious about his family’s fridge full of Korean foods. Here’s what he said about Lee serving a dish with kimchi:
A year ago I was pouring wine at a table — it was a grüner with this little canapé course that incorporated raw oyster, pork belly, and kimchi. And as I was doing my spiel, at that moment – that night – I felt like I had come full circle. I broke down and I had to go into the office and collect myself because I couldn’t believe that I was on the floor talking about kimchi and pouring a wine; in my youth, I would have never believed it because I was so stressed out and anxiety-ridden over it. That’s what’s been so amazing about Benu, it’s allowed me to reconnect, in a way, with my heritage. I would have never expected that I’d have a restaurant job that could do that.
It wasn’t all glory for the Bay Area nominees: There were some notable near-misses, too. For Best Chef West, finalist Joshua Skenes (Angler) lost out to Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Los Angeles), and Angler also lost out in the best new restaurant category to New York’s Frenchette. Elsewhere, Quince, the only local finalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category (for restaurants 10 years or older), lost out to Philadelphia’s Zahav.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.