Additional reporting by Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Heads turn and cell phones buzz when the prestigious James Beard nominations get announced.

Ten Twin Cities chefs and two restaurants have been named to the list of semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, often considered the premiere award of the culinary world.

Both well-known names and relative newcomers are among the honorees.

Congratulatory texts caught Christina Nguyen bright and early.

“Just a total, total shock, did not see it coming,” Nguyen said.

Along with her husband, she opened Hai Hai in northeast Minneapolis in November. Her Vietnamese-influenced dishes will earn her a shot at best chef in the Midwest, and are a reflection of her upbringing and travels, putting a new spin on Asian cuisine.

“There were so many dishes we were like, ‘Wow, this isn’t on anybody’s menu here.’ So some of the deeper cuts we want to explore,” Nguyen said. She is also the chef at Hola Arepa.

Jamie Malone’s travels through France gave her inspiration for Grand Café in South Minneapolis. What began as a bakery 70 years ago still sports the old oven and mixer.

“It’s got a ton of soul to it, something in the walls, there’s magic here,” she said. “I’m stunned and excited and really proud of my team.”

The magic transcends to her French country dishes, earning her nominations for both best Midwest chef and best new restaurant. Malone just got her first semifinalist nod, but she made the long list when she was the chef at Sea Change in 2014, and was a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef in 2013.

Some names are returning to the list as national semifinalists: Alex Roberts was once again on the list as a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in the entire country, Michelle Gayer is making her third appearance as a semifinalist as Outstanding Baker, as is Diane Yang making a third trip as a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef for her work at Spoon and Stable. 112 Eatery is a semifinalist for the first time for Outstanding Service, and Grand Café in Minneapolis was honored as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

Best Chef: Midwest covers Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Gavin Kaysen from Spoon and Stable is on the list for the first time, although he won the 2008 Rising Star Chef of the Year award when he was at Café Boulud in New York City.

Also on the Best Chef: Midwest list is Thomas Boemer of Corner Table and Revival (third appearance), Steven Brown from Tilia (a finalist last year and a semifinalist three other times), Ann Kim from Young Joni and Lisa Carlson from Chef Shack Bay City in Wisconsin both are second time semifinalists.

The semifinalist list, or long list, is culled from 20,000 submissions made to the James Beard Foundation. A committee of food critics and writers from around the country narrow those submissions down. The next step is for 500 or so voters to pick winners. Those voters are critics, writers, past restaurant and chef award winners.  The nominees or finalists will be announced March 14, and the winners will be awarded on April 27.

National Awards Semifinalists
Best New Restaurant: Grand Cafe, Minneapolis
Outstanding Baker: Michele Gayer, Salty Tart
Outstanding Chef: Alex Roberts, Restaurant Alma
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Diane Yang, Spoon and Stable
Outstanding Service: 112 Eatery

Best Chef, Midwest (asterisk denotes first-time semifinalist)
Thomas Boemer, Corner Table
Steven Brown, Tilia
Lisa Carlson*, Chef Shack
Gavin Kaysen, Spoon and Stable
Ann Kim, Young Joni
Jamie Malone*, Grand Cafe
Christina Nguyen*, Hai Hai

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