[image-1]The James Beard Foundation has just announced its 2017 award semifinalists and Charleston boasts eight names on the list. Here they are:

Outstanding Chef: Mike Lata, FIG

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Cynthia Wong, Butcher & Bee

Outstanding Restaurateur: David Howard, Neighborhood Dining Group (Husk, McCrady’s, Minero, and others)

Outstanding Wine Program: FIG

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional: Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall, High Wire Distilling Company

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Shuai Wang, Short Grain

Best Chef: Southeast: Kevin Johnson, The Grocery

Charleston has improved its standing after claiming only four semifinalists last year (it was 11 in 2015). Returning names include FIG’s wine program and Chef Kevin Johnson. Both have been on the list three times. Also in Johnson’s category is North Carolina’s Vivian Howard of Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer, along with Raleigh Cheetie Kumar of Garland.

Last year, FIG’s wine program made it to the finalist round facing off against Seattle’s Canlis, Tampa’s Bern’s Steakhouse, New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace, and Chicago’s Sepia restaurant. Bern’s Steakhouse took the honor.

The 2009 Best Chef: Southeast winner Mike Lata is also back in the Beard spotlight, this time vying for the coveted prize of Outstanding Chef, a title Sean Brock has been a finalist for in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Butcher & Bee’s incredible pastry chef Cynthia Wong makes the list again this year. Wong made the list for her work at Asheville’s Rhubarb restaurant.

David Howard of Neighborhood Dining Group makes his first foray onto the Beard list with a nod for Outstanding Restaurateur this year and also new to the program are Anne Marshall and Scott Blackwell, the brains behind Charleston’s High Wire Distilling Co. But perhaps the biggest (and dare we say best) surprise is that bone-in egg roll badass Short Grain’s Shuai Wang is capping off an incredible past nine months with a nod for Rising Star Chef.

It appears Wang is just as stunned. In a Facebook post of the list, Wang simply stated, “Holy hell.” Holy hell indeed.

Congrats to all of the semifinalists.

To view the full list, click here.

The foundation will announce the 2017 nominees on Wed., March 15 at the Book, Journalism, Broadcast Media, and Restaurant Design Awards in Los Angeles.

The 2017 James Beard Awards Gala will be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Mon. May 1.

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