Back for repeat nominations are Nashville chefs Tandy Wilson of City House and Tyler Brown of Capitol Grille. They're both nominated for Best Chef in the Southeast. A new Nashville player is The Catbird Seat — the small, gemlike eatery where a handful of diners gather in a semicircle around a tiny kitchen where two chefs cook and deliver the food directly to the patrons. It was tapped as one of 10 finalists for Best New Restaurant in America.
Tuesday's announcement was the third national honor in 10 days for The Catbird Seat. On Feb. 13, the co-chefs, Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, cooked dinner at the James Beard House in New York, wowing a sold-out crowd with their cuisine. Also last week, GQ magazine placed The Catbird Seat at No. 5 on a list of Top 10 New Restaurants.
"People are paying attention to Southern food," says Catbird Seat co-owner Ben Goldberg, whose Strategic Hospitality group also includes Nashville's Merchants and Patterson House. (The latter got its own moment in the national spotlight this week when Stephen Colbert praised it while interviewing Nashville writer Ann Patchett on his show. Goldberg says Colbert has indeed dined at Patterson House.)
In the James Beard category of Outstanding Chef, the top honor for an individual, a former Nashvillian is nominated: Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, S.C. Brock is the former chef at Capitol Grille, and Tyler Brown worked under him before being promoted upon Brock's departure.
A new James Beard category, Outstanding Bar Program, reveals a couple Nashville connections. Before opening Catbird Seat, Habiger helped launch The Aviary in Chicago, a bar program nominee. Another nominee in that category, The Violet Hour in New York is where Jane Lopes, The Catbird Seat's beverage director, came from, and some of Violet Hour's owners are also partners in The Catbird Seat.
Nashvillians who travel the region will of course know many of the names in the Best Chef in the Southeast category. Besides Brown and Wilson, four other Tennesseans are nominated in that category: Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.; Daniel Lindley of St. John's Restaurant in Chattanooga; and Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis.
The James Beard Foundation's restaurant and chef awards are a three-step system. Tuesday's semifinals were the first step. Final nominees will be announced March 19.
Winners will be announced in an awards ceremony May 7 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York. Watch the James Beard Foundation's Twitter feed (@beardfoundation) for updates.