In a major nod to metro Detroit's increasingly thriving dining scene, one local restaurant and three chefs have been named semi-finalists for the prestigious James Beard awards.
The James Beard Foundation announced today that Hazel Park restaurant Mabel Gray is a semi-finalist for best new restaurant of the year. Also selected were chefs Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard in Midtown and Nick Janutol of Forest in Birmingham, both for best chef in the Great Lakes region; and Garrett Lipar of Marais in Grosse Pointe for rising star of the year.
The three were among a group of semi-finalists chosen out of about 20,000 entrees submitted last fall to the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Committee made up of critics, writers, and editors. Final Restaurant and Chef Award nominees, as well as nominations for book, journalism, broadcast media, and restaurant design awards, will be announced March 15 in San Francisco and on Twitter. The 2016 James Beard Awards Gala will take place May 2 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago (the Foundation's Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards dinner will be held April 26 at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers in New York City).
The James Beard Awards are among the highest honors that can be bestowed in the restaurant industry and are often referred to as the "Oscars of Food."
The news should come as no surprise to fans of the food put out by the chefs at these establishments.
Mabel Gray, launched last fall by award-winning James Rigato, opened to great acclaim in the otherwise unassuming inner-ring suburb of Hazel Park. Prior to opening the new restaurant, Rigato's commitment to sustainable sourcing had made waves at The Root in White Lake, where he is still executive chef.
"This is a great time to be cooking in and around Detroit," Rigato tells us. "I'm thankful that the community supports restaurants like Mabel Gray and all the chefs who made the list."
Selden Standard, not yet two years old, also opened to great praise, with Hollyday impressing critics instantly with his seasonal menu of inventive small plates.
Hollyday, who made the semi-finalist list in the same category last year, tells us the recognition really speaks to the hard work that he, his staff, and other chefs throughout the region have been putting forward to make the local dining scene what it is today.
"We have a long ways to go before we have the density really to become a major food market destination, but we have a good foundation that we're rebuilding in a way," Hollyday says.
Janutol helped write the menu for the newly-redesigned Forest. The longtime bistro had gone under a dramatic transformation last year when it was purchased by restaurateur Samy Eid. Janutol has worked at Forest for the past years, after spending several years cooking in Chicago and New York.
As for the nod, Janutol tells us it feels like recognition for his coming into his own as a chef.
"It's been a whole three-year process, moving from Chicago, taking what I learned there," Janutol says of the learning process he's experienced to grow in his profession. "I feel like with Samy's guidance like we finally have a menu that's both comfortable feeling, but still modern."
As for Lipar, admirers of his work may be more familiar with him at the now-defunct Torino in Ferndale. The popular New American establishment abruptly shuttered last summer, as inspectors found the kitchen was too small by health inspectors. That took Lipar to the white table cloth French restaurant Marais in Grosse Pointe, where he overhauled the menu to fit with his more daring style in cooking.