Curious as to how the James Beard Foundation finds the country’s best restaurants and chefs each year? Well, it all starts now during the open nomination process. Anyone can register at and submit their nominations for categories like Outstanding Restaurant, Best Chef: Southeast, and Rising Star Chef of the Year.

If you’ve got a chef you’ve been dying to see recognized, here’s your chance to throw his or her hat in the ring. But you better hurry, because voting closes on the Thurs. Dec. 31.

After the nomination process closes, the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee winnows the ballot down to 20 semifinalists in each category. From there, the ballot is sent to previous winners, regional panelists, and members of the awards subcommittee. Finalists are revealed in March, and the same voters decide the winners, which are announced in May.

Charleston has had a pretty good run in recent years with Mike Lata of FIG and Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill winning in 2009 and 2008 respectively. Bowens Island was also recognized as an American Classic in 2006.

It might be hard for Charleston to take the Best Chef: Southeast award for a third year in the row, particularly if Hugh Acheson (5&10 in Athens) and Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta) get nominated again. These guys are surely due.

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