Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Yes, Dallas, we should be angry about the James Beard Awards

By meerna Jun11,2024

Last night, the losing streak at the James Beard Awards in Dallas crossed the 30-year mark. The three finalists – representing three of the city’s best restaurants of the last decade – received their well-deserved moment in the spotlight. But each lost: Lucia’s David Uygur lost the national grand champion for best chef to Washington talent, Gemma lost exceptional hospitality to a Chicago brunch spot, and Misti Norris of Petra and the Beast lost the statewide award for best chef : Texas for Ana Liz Pulido with Ana Liz Taquería in Mission.

The last Dallasite to win the Beard competition was Dean Fearing in 1994. Since then, the number of local semifinalists – including Dallas suburbs – has grown to 106 contenders. None of the 106 winners won. Our only food industry honorees since Fearing are the founder of Dallas Mozzarella Co. Paula Lambert (“Who’s Who” list) and Sonny Bryan’s Barbecue (metro Dallas’ only entry in “America’s Classics”).

It’s at least understandable that Chicago and DC restaurants win big. But a taco place in Mission, Texas?

I had never been to Ana Liz Taquería, so after her victory, I started searching the Internet for professional culinary or travel articles describing this restaurant. I found exactly one article, a Texas Monthly review by James Beard Awards committee member José Ralata. Paints a glowing picture. Pulido is a nice 26-year-old woman who had to face patronizing, sexist contractors and older people to open her restaurant.

Pulido nixtamalizes its own corn into tortillas and serves the tostadas with not one, not two, but six salsas. Six! Ana Liz Taquería’s menu includes tacos ranging from $2.25 to $4.20 with fillings such as fajita meat, carnitas and chile relleno. You can get quesadillas, empanadas, baked potatoes and side dishes of corn on the cob “ribs” and “spicy potatoes” (sic).

This type of cooking doesn’t make headlines in the rest of Texas. Other chefs who use their own corn for tortillas include Emmanuel Chavez of Tatemó in Houston, who lost to Pulido; Edgar Rico of Nixta in Austin, who won the national Beard title last year; long-mentioned but unrewarded Dallasites Regino Rojas, Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman and Olivia López; and the never-nominated Dallas restaurant El Carlos Elegante.

What makes Ana Liz Taquería objectively better than all these restaurants? Bearded people prefer to make decisions unconsciously. Judges are effectively prohibited from explaining their decisions. They’re daring us to go all the way to Mission and find out.

I see two options:

  • Ana Liz Taquería is truly a better restaurant than all the competing restaurants in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Austin and the rest of Texas. Whatever you name them, it will be better. If we go, we’ll say, “Wow, this really is better than any other food in Texas.”
  • When judges say “Best”, they don’t actually mean “Best”. They can judge on a small market curve, patronize a charming underdog, make a statement, or throw someone into the spotlight – but not choose “The Best.”

Both are possible! One of them is more likely.

There are practical problems with judging these types of awards, starting with the costly and time-consuming travel to each candidate. No referee visited all the players often enough to assess consistency. In my experience as a two-time judge, most judges visit less than half of the candidates.

But all these problems are secondary to the most important one. The award is “Best Chef: Texas.” It should go to the best chef in Texas. The Beards in this and other recent years have lost touch with this basic idea.

To be clear, this is not an elitist argument that fine dining restaurants are better. It’s also not a racist argument that tacos are inferior. In the past, I led a public campaign for Revolver Taco Lounge.

The argument is simpler. “Best” should mean best. Iliana de la Vega, the 2022 winner at El Naranjo in Austin, may be the best chef in Texas. Houston’s Chris Shepherd, a former regional winner, was arguably the best chef in Texas during his Underbelly heyday. Misti Norris, this year’s finalist for her work at Petra and the Beast, is currently the hottest chef in Texas, and San Antonio’s Steve McHugh, de la Vega’s runner-up, is the most consistent.

Instead, Pretty Good Chef: Texas was selected for the Beard Awards. Or the person we want to pay attention to: Texas. Maybe even the most underrated chef: Texas. This is all fine for the Person we want to draw attention to for awards.

But – and I’m speaking now not only for Dallas, but for all the other pretty good chefs in Texas who didn’t win the Brody in the Pretty Good Chef: Texas category – have they completely abandoned the idea of ​​”The Best”? From my perspective, it seems that the Beards responded to the natural impossibility of scouting every restaurant in the country by putting the awards’ prestige and reputation in the hands of chance.

Or it seems random until you remember that Dallas has lost 106 in a row.


Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine’s food critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for D Magazine. Dallas Observer and Morning news from Dallas.

By meerna

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