Kentucky chefs, distiller nominated for James Beard Awards

Three Kentuckians have been nominated for the highest honor in food. The annual James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards recently announced its list of 2020 semifinalists. Established in 1991, the annual awards honor members of the American food, beverage and hospitality industries who show excellence in their fields.

Chef-Owner Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn, The Midway Bakery and Cafe, Honeywood and several other Lexington-area restaurants is up for Outstanding Restaurateur. The honor is given to restaurant owners who show creativity in entrepreneurship and integrity in restaurant operations over the course of at least 10 years. Michel has been nominated as a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur and Best Chef: Southeast several times but never won.

Kentucky falls into the Southeast category for its Best Chef award. Chef Annie Pettry of Decca Restaurant in Louisville is among 20 semifinalists in the group, which also includes chefs from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Decca opened in Louisville’s hip NuLu neighborhood in 2012 and features dishes utilizing ingredients from Kentucky farmers and producers. This is Pettry’s first nomination.

Drew Kulsveen of Willett Distillery in Bardstown is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional. This is the fifth consecutive year he has been nominated for that award, which honors exception work in distilling, brewing or winemaking. Kulsveen is the only Kentucky bourbon distiller nominated.

Awards are voted on my noted food writers, restaurant critics and chefs in the industry. Each year a ‘long list’ of 20 semifinalists are announced in each category in February, then narrowed to 5-10 finalists in March before an awards ceremony in May.

See the full list of semifinalists.

— Rachel Nix

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