Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

How Seattle fared at the 2024 James Beard Awards

By meerna Jun11,2024

Last night There were many great things about the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago: Cheers to long-suffering spouses. Confirmation of sobriety. Many winners representing traditional Japanese costumes. What wasn’t on the night: No winners from Washington State.

But we have a strong bond with one of the chefs who walked away with a medal. Hajime Sato founded Mashiko sushi restaurant in West Seattle in 1994. In 2009, he focused on seafood from sustainable sources. It removed standards like bluefin tuna from the menu and introduced a strict set of guidelines and matching menu items for responsibly caught fish. Today it is a bold choice. Fifteen years ago this was nothing short of revolutionary.

Mashiko helped advance the discussion about sustainable fishing in Seattle. Ten years later, in 2019, he sold the restaurant to three longtime employees and moved to Michigan, his wife’s home state. Last night, Sato won the Outstanding Chef Award in the Great Lakes category for his Sozai restaurant in Clawson, Michigan. And he looked great doing it; during the tie ceremony, the chef wore a traditional obi, yakata and haori. Hajime, we knew you when.

Seattle had a tough night medal-wise, but the entire list of nominees fit and dressed for the event; Prominent restaurateur finalists Quynh and Yenvy Pham even wore matching jackets. Our state started this weekend with a strong team. Mike and Erin Easton flew from Waitsburg to compete in the Best New Restaurant category. Janet Becerra of Pancita applied for the emerging chef position.

Finalists for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific were Kristi Brown of Communion, Melissa Miranda of Musang and Avery Adams of Matia on Orcas Island. Portland chef Gregory Gourdet won the category a year after Kann won the medal for best new restaurant.

He stood in front of the audience at the Lyric Opera in Chicago in a fantastic feathered jacket (its colors refer to Haiti’s national bird) and said that moving to Oregon was a turning point in his sobriety. Now, he says, “I can gratefully work at the center of Haitian culture and Haitian storytelling – in one of the most accidental places: the Pacific Northwest.”

Portland also took home one of the top awards of the night. The team behind Langbaan won the award in the Best Restaurant category. Owner Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom was emotional during his speech; talked about the difficult year in which his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Like our colleagues from Portland Monthly put it this way: “Langbaan is the hardest table to book in Portland (maybe currently tied with Kann).”

I hereby compulsorily disclose that I am a member of the committee for restaurants and chefs participating in the competition. Being happy for the deserved winners and frustrated that Washington is late in getting the recognition it deserves is a complicated feeling. So let’s get back to one of the evening’s most enduring messages: running a restaurant – especially a great one – is an incredibly hard and life-consuming job. Especially now, between high costs and years of unrelenting uncertainty. It would be nice to honor our chefs with medals, but celebrating them in the context of our business is more important.

By meerna

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