Honolulu’s Senia restaurant scored two spots on the James Beard Foundation list of semifinalists for its prestigious culinary awards, announced this morning.
Chef/owners Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush were named jointly to the regional category of best chef in the Northwest and Pacific, while Senia’s Mimi Mendoza was named in the national category of outstanding pastry chef.
Joining Kajioka and Rush in the chef group are Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho in Waikiki and Sheldon Simeon of Lineage on Maui. The Northwest/Pacific category comprises 20 other semifinalists from Hawaii, Alaska, Washington state and Oregon.
Honolulu’s Bar Leather Apron was named a semifinalist for outstanding bar program, another nationwide category.
The semifinalists will be pared down to the final nominees for the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards on March 25. Winners will be announced at a gala May 4 in Chicago.
It has been more than a decade since anyone from Hawaii has moved from the semifinalist list on to the finalists. George Mavrothalassitis of Chef Mavro was the last to claim an actual prize, as regional best chef in 2003.
Chances could be better this year, as the James Beard Foundation has realigned its geographical categories, putting Hawaii this year in the Northwest and Pacific group. Since 2007 Hawaii had been competing in a region that includes all of California.
The new region is aligned more as it was in years when Hawaii chefs Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong and Mavrothalassitis won top chef awards.
The foundation held an online open call for entries in October; these entries, along with suggestions from an independent volunteer group of more than 250 panelists are examined by a nominating committee to determine the semifinalists in each of the 23 categories. A group of more than 600 judges determines the finalists and then the winners.
For a full list of semifinalists go to jamesbeard.org.