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Final Countdown: NOLA's James Beard Nominees

A Quick Look at the 2017 Contenders

New faces and repeat contenders alike grace the ranks of this year's James Beard Awards finalists, announced earlier this afternoon. After a strong show in the semifinals, eleven locals made it into the finals of the Oscars of the culinary world. The indulgences of Carnival season and the holidays may be too close in our collective memory for us to handle dining out to the hilt, but try to explore some of the city's top offerings before the James Beard Foundation announces the 2017 winners at a ceremony in Chicago on May 1st. 


Check out NoDef's inside look at the eleven contenders vying for the coveted brass Beard below. 





Donald Link, Herbsaint

A name synonymous with inspired cuisine and the city of New Orleans, Chef Donald Link’s nomination to Outstanding Chef will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his restaurants. The 2017 James Beard Awards marks a decade of well deserved accolades, nominations, and awards for the chef and those of the Link Restaurant Group, beginning with Link’s win with Herbsaint for Best Chef: South in 2007. Once again consecutively nominated for Outstanding Chef with Herbsaint, Donald Link solidifies his legacy as a master chef the nation must reckon with. 

Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Ave. 





Nina Compton, Compère Lapin

Born in St. Lucia, mentored in Miami, and further practiced in the art of classical French culinary training, Nina Compton best describes her menu as delightfully “playful.” Mixing her eclectic culinary background with a Caribbean heritage and local New Orleans ingredients, Compton made an immediate name for herself after opening Compère Lapin to much Top Chef fanfare in 2015. Dishes ranging from Spiced Pig Ears to Curried Goat display her range, while the Black Drum and Black Eyed Peas dial into the rich palette of the city’s history.  

Compère Lapin, The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, 535 Tchoupitoulas St. 


Slade Rushing, Brennan's

Taking over as Executive Chef in 2014, Slade Rushing designed a menu remaining true to both Brennan’s and New Orleans’s Creole flavors. With entrees including Satsuma Lacquered Roasted Duck and Redfish Amandine, one can spot the subtle elevation Rushing continues to bring to this French Quarter haunt. This year brings a second nomination for Rushing, who is also author of Southern Comfort: A New Take on the Recipes We Grew Up With.

Brennan's, 417 Royal St. 


Rebecca Wilcomb, Herbsaint

As Chef de Cuisine of a restaurant aged nearly 17 years, maintaining a fresh perspective on the cuisine you create is of great important. Rebecca Wilcomb joined Herbsaint in 2008, and became Chef de Cuisine under Donald Link in 2011. This year she joins Link with a Beard nom all her own. Wilcomb sees success by way of local produce and sustainable farming to prepare dishes such as Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Bacon Braised Field Peas & Pickled Peppers and Louisiana Shrimp & Fish Ceviche with Cucumbers & Pepitas.

Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Ave. 





Zachary Engel, Shaya

As an award delegated to a chef aged 30 years or younger "who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come,” Shaya’s Chef de Cuisine Zachary Engel is a well deserving potential recipient. Honing his culinary skills in restaurants of Philadelphia, Sonoma County, and Israel led Engel to a current kitchen partnership with renowned chef Alon Shaya at his namesake Magazine St. restaurant. As Chef de Cuisine, Engel is able to funnel every ounce of acquired talent into maintaining quality dishes and perpetuating a strong passion for Israeli food and culture.

Shaya, 4213 Magazine St. 





Kelly Fields, Willa Jean

Chef and partner at Willa Jean, Fields’s culinary skills in the realm of all things baked, savory-sweet, and Southern garnered immediate accolades from diners and critics alike. Willa Jean operates as both restaurant and bakery, serving up breakfast, lunch, and everything in between (i.e. a fried chicken biscuit with tabasco honey to BBQ shrimp toast on sourdough bread). Before Willa Jean, Fields served as Executive Pastry Chef to Besh restaurants, a rewarding history leading to her third nomination in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category.

Willa Jean, 611 O'Keefe Ave.





JoAnn Clevenger, Upperline

JoAnne Clevenger’s 2017 nomination with Upperline marks five years of recognition from the James Beard Foundation. The category calls for “a working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship,” and Upperline does just that. Located in an 1877 town house on Upperline and St. Charles Ave., this elevated Creole establishment not only serves up classic Louisiana food, but showcases a great deal of Clevenger’s collected artworks and memorabilia, creating an authentic New Orleans vibe — a precedent difficult to emulate.

Upperline, 1413 Upperline St. 





Arnaud's French 75 Bar

Head bartender Chris Hannah’s cocktails are crafted with precision that only a true professional could conjure, leading Arnaud’s French 75 Bar into their third consecutive nomination in the Outstanding Bar Program category. Maintaining a cocktail list which champions the classics through playful innovation, patrons both local and from afar are able to imbibe on drinks that invoke tradition yet remain ahead of the alcohol curve. Their namesake specialty — the French 75 — is reason enough for continued recognition. 

Arnaud's French 75 Bar, 813 Bienville St.



A quick glimpse over their cocktail menu shows the commanding knowledge of spirits held amongst the mixologists behind Cure’s bar. Branched into three sections (Seasonal, House Favorites, Reserves), there is a definitive balance reached amongst the overwhelming selection, allowing any palate to sip happily. Cure’s bartenders are at the helm of the menu, and you’ll notice each seasonal cocktail is attributed to one of their own. The real standouts are the Reserve Cocktails featuring rare and premium spirits, ranging from Diplomatico Single Vintage Rum served up in the Baller Mai Tai to Orphan Barrel Barterhouse Bourbon used to expert levels in the 20 Year Old Fashioned. 2017 marks Cure’s second consecutive nomination in the category. 

Cure, 4905 Freret St.





Emeril's New Orleans 

Overlooking a wine cellar of over 1,900 selections and what amounts to nearly 10,000 bottles of vino, first level Master Sommelier Ray Gumpert must stand tall. With the Emeril's team since 2008, Gumpert helped sustain the restaurant's wine reptutation, which for fourteen consecutive years has garnered Wine Spectator's prestigious Grand Award. 

Emeril's New Orleans, 800 Tchoupitoulas St. 





Galatoire's Restaurant 

When a restaurant becomes an institution, then an icon, certain facets must never falter. And in Bourbon's century-old fine dining establishment, the service never skips a beat. Winner of the Outstanding Restaurant category in 2005, the Galatoire’s reputation for excellence is not newly acquired. Throw on a suit jacket or a white linen sundress and enjoy their famously rambunctious Friday Lunch in the main dining room — but don’t be late.

Galatoire's Restaurant, 209 Bourbon St.

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