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13 Local Chefs, Restaurants Land On James Beard Semifinalist List

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Thirteen Twin Cities restaurants or chefs have been named semifinalists for the most prestigious award in the culinary world, the James Beard Foundation Award.

There are returning semifinalists for national awards, including Michelle Gayer, the baker and owner of The Salty Tart in Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, as well as newcomers to the list, like the newly opened Esker Grove inside Walker Art Center.

Eight local chefs are on the list for Best Chef: Midwest, a regional award that has competitors from Minnesota, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Kansas City.

Best New Restaurant:
Esker Grove (at the Walker Art Center)

Outstanding Baker:
Michelle Gayer, Salty Tart

Outstanding Bar Program:
Marvel Bar

Outstanding Chef:
Alex Roberts, Restaurant Alma

Outstanding Pastry Chef:
Diane Yang, Spoon and Stable

Best Chef: Midwest
Thomas Boemer, Corner Table
Mike Brown, Bob Gerken, James Winberg, Travail Kitchen & Amusements
Steven Brown, Tilia
Lisa Carlson, Chef Shack, Bay City, WI
Jim Christiansen, Heyday
Jorge Guzman, Brewer's Table at Surly Brewing
Erick Harcey, Upton 43
Ann Kim, Young Joni

It's easy to guess who inspired Erick Harcey's modern spin on Nordic food at Upton 43. Just look to the photo of his grandfather Willard on the wall.

"He was like, 'Why don't you just cook your food and do the stuff you love?' And I was like, 'Yeah, it would make this a lot easier,'" he said.

His first time on the list, Harcey has come a long way for a chef who opened his first restaurant -- Victory 44 in North Minneapolis -- when he was 25.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "It's early in the day, so it hasn't really set in yet."

No stranger to the list is Michele Gayer.

"It feels fantastic, a very big honor because you're nominated by your peers," she said.

From savory focaccia to cinnamon rolls as big as your head, it's no wonder the baker and owner behind Salty Tart at Midtown Global Market has been a semifinalist and finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the past. This year the recognition for Outstanding Baker comes at no sweeter time.

"I had a cancer scare," Gayer said.

Stage III lung cancer, that after months of chemo, is gone. Throughout it all, she had baking.

"It survived with me through this cancer, all of this," she said.

The James Beard nominees will be announced March 15, and the award winners will be announced May 1 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

More than 24,000 entries were received for the Restaurant and Chef Awards in 2017. A committee reviews the list to decide on the semifinalists.

This list is sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from around the country, including restaurant critics, food and wine editors, and past award winners who then vote on the final five nominees in each category.

To see the full 2017 Restaurant and Chefs Award Semifinalists list, click here.

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