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May 5, 2020

In challenging year for restaurants, five Maine chefs are nominated for Beard Awards

Photo / Greta Rybus for Palace Diner Biddeford's Palace Diner, a breakfast and lunch spot housed in a refurbished 1920s train car, is closed because of the pandemic but offering takeout. Two of the Beard Award nominees from Maine, Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley, are chefs at the diner.

In a year like no other for the restaurant industry, Mainers have dominated nominations for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Northeast award.

Five of the seven nominees, announced Monday afternoon on Twitter, are from Maine: Vien Dobui, of CÔNG TỬBỘT, in Portland; Ben Jackson, Drifters Wife, Portland; Krista Kern Desjarlais, the Purple House, North Yarmouth; and Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley, Palace Diner, Biddeford.

All of the Maine restaurants whose chefs were nominated for the prestigious prize are now temporarily closed because of the coronavirus crisis.

Two other nominees, from the Boston area, rounded out the nominations for Best Chef in the region, which comprises the six New England states. Nominations were chosen from 20 semifinalists selected in February; winners will be announced in September.

A total of 12 Maine chefs and restaurants had made the list of semifinalists for a variety of James Beard Awards. The awards are one of the world’s most renowned culinary competitions — the dining equivalent of the Oscars — and have been presented annually since 1990.

"Some of the restaurants announced today are temporarily closed, some are operating in another form, such as take-out or meal relief efforts, whilst others have already announced that they will permanently close,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a news release Monday.

“Today we acknowledge the accomplishments of all the people behind these restaurants, and the need for everyone to fight for this industry that employs 16 million people and is a vital part of American culture."

Maine eateries and their personnel often are among the Beard Award semifinalists; last year the state fielded nine, and in 2018, there were 11. Mainers sometimes collect the top prizes. Last year, Allagash Brewing Co. founder and CEO Rob Tod won the national James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer. And in 2017, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, shared the Northeastern best chef title.

The awards draw thousands of entrants vying for prizes in 12 regional categories, 11 nationwide contests, and several dozen for restaurant design, books and journalism. In a six-month process, the competitors are narrowed down and the winners chosen by a group of 600 leading restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past recipients.

The 2020 awards, originally scheduled to be presented Monday, were postponed in March because of the coronavirus crisis. The restaurant and chef award winners will be announced Sept. 25 via Twitter.

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