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Hawaii chefs and restaurants are named James Beard semifinalists


    Chef Chris Kajioka, left, and Chef Ed Kenney are semifinalists in the category of best chef in the western region, which also includes California and Nevada.


    Bar Leather Apron co-owners Tom Park, left, and Justin Park (no relation). Bar Leather Apron is a semifinalist in the outstanding bar program category in the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards.


Two Hawaii chefs, a baker, a bar and three restaurants have been named semifinalists in the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards.

The prestigious list was released announced today, with semifinalists selected from among more than 20,000 entries in 21 categories.

Chefs Chris Kajioka of Senia and Ed Kenney of Town, Mud Hen Water, Kaimuki Superette and Mahina and Sun’s are semifinalists in the category of best chef in the western region, which also includes California and Nevada.

“This is a testament to the whole Town tribe, those who work with us and those who eat with us,” said Kenney. “You know how Hillary Clinton said it takes a village? We say it takes a Town.”

Downtown Honolulu’s Bar Leather Apron, which celebrated two years at the Topa Financial Center last month, is a semifinalist in the outstanding bar program category, a nationwide category.

“We strive every day to do something world class here and be ambassadors of Hawaii around the world,” said co-owner Tom Park. “To be honored in this realm, at this level, words can’t express how humbled we are. We’re even more motivated to keep going and doing better things.”

Also named semifinalists on a nationwide basis are Mama’s Fish House on Maui as outstanding restaurant, George Kanemitsu of Kanemitsu Bakery on Molokai as outstanding baker, Honolulu’s Maru Sushi as best new restaurant and Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar as outstanding wine program.

Kajioka, who owns Senia with chef Anthony Rush, expressed similar sentiments, but also made sure to point out a technicality that kept his business partner from sharing this year’s nomination.

“This is the most incredible honor we have,” he said. “It’s a bummer Anthony wasn’t nominated — the rules say you must be cooking in a region for a certain amount of time. So it came down to a rule. He’s just as much tied to the success of Senia.

“Bar Leather so deserves the award,” added Kajioka, who regularly works on private catering gigs with BLA co-owner Justin Park. “It is easily one of the top bars in the world. I hardly drink, but I go in there a lot just to watch Justin. I hope the people in Hawaii realize that there is no one better.”

Finalists will be announced March 14, with the awards ceremony on May 7. For a full list of nominees go to jamesbeard.org/awards.

Star-Advertiser reporters Joleen Oshiro and Jason Genegabus contributed to this post.

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