Pittsburgh chefs nominated for James Beard Foundation Awards

Asheville chefs among James Beard semifinalists

She was not familiar with James Beard Foundation, which oversees what many consider the Oscars of the food world, and who had to be told why this was a pretty big deal.

Jeff Smedstad, a Chandler native who previously cooked at Los Sombreros in Scottsdale, has operated the acclaimed Elote Cafe in Sedona for 10 years.

Ilma Lopez of Piccolo in Portland is an Outstanding Pastry Chef semifinalist, and Alison Pray, one of the founders of Standard Baking Co., is up for Outstanding Baker. The restaurant specializes in traditional Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, inspired by Smedstad's extensive travels through Mexico.

Hometown hotspot Woodberry Kitchen also scored a nod for outstanding service, which is another national award.

This is the first step toward the journey to a Beard award.

Four Pittsburgh chefs have been nominated for the 27th annual James Beard Foundation Awards, the New York-based foundation announced Wednesday.

In the running for Best Chef: South are Compere Lapin's Nina Compton, MoPho and Maypop's Michael Gulotta, Brennan's Slade Rushing, Isaac Toups of Toups Meatery and Toups South, Herbsaint's Rebecca Wilcomb and both Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig of Coquette.

Judges culled the list from 24,000 online entries, whittling it down to semifinalists in 21 categories, including 19 local nominees.

Wisconsin natives listed in other categories include Phillip Foss of EL Ideas in Chicago, for best chef: Great Lakes, and Alex Seidel, a semifinalist for best chef: Southwest, this time for his second restaurant, Mercantile, in Denver. Nominations will also be announced live via the Foundation's Facebook Live video feed and in real time on Twitter.

Semifinalists, which were announced February 15, will be whittled down to finalists that the James Beard Foundation will announce on Wednesday, March 15.

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