A Spokane chef has been nominated for a prestigious culinary award.
Chad White of Zona Blanca was named a semifinalist for a regional James Beard Award, his second semifinalist nomination.
He is one of 20 semifinalists for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific, a category that includes Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska. White previously received a nomination in the same category in 2020 before the organization took a year off to revamp and diversify its judging system.
Chefs, writers and restaurateurs covet James Beard Awards like Michelin stars, White said.
“This is like the Grammys of chef awards,” he said.
White said that in the past, considering the attention he has received since competing on season 13 of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” certain awards have felt like a popularity contest. But the James Beard Awards are a different story.
“Especially now, when I look back at Zona Blanca in its first location – we were a 400-square-foot ceviche eatery in the back of a beer bar sandwiched between a homeless shelter and an auto body shop – not exactly what I would assume to be a James Beard-nominated environment,” he said.
“But it doesn’t have to just be about a really beautiful restaurant. It’s about the chef and the food and the quality that they put behind it.”
Getting the first nomination in 2020 was validating, he said. But getting nominated a second time among friends like Melissa Miranda from Seattle’s Musang and Sheldon Simeon at Tin Roof in Kahului, Hawaii, has been a much-needed source of uplift after the ongoing difficulties of the past two years.
“There hasn’t been any chef that’s been nominated twice (from Spokane),” he said. “So to get nominated twice – now I feel like I belong in this club.”
The James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards seek out and showcase exceptional members of the American food, beverage and hospitality industries to promote “a strong, safe, inclusive, ethical food community.”
“Winners show exceptional talent and creativity in their craft and commendable leadership among their colleagues and peers,” the website reads.
For many years, White said, the awards had been something of “a white man’s game.” But after the organization took last year off to reorganize and diversify, he hopes the winners will start to reflect new talent.
A panel of judges – eight James Beard Award-winning professionals from across the industry – will select finalists for each of the “Restaurant and Chef” categories; winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in June.
White announced in January that he is part of a group of restaurateurs opening a taco shop, Uno Mas, in Spokane Valley. But this month, he announced that he was closing his two High Tide Lobster Bar locations in Spokane because of the high price of lobster.
“Failures are important for continued growth and success, but this is just definitely an ego boost when I needed it the most – it’s probably the best news that I could have received,” he said. “I always want to share wins with my team because I feel like they’re the reason I win. And so if there’s anything that I’m stoked about, it’s that they can all feel proud to work where they’re working.”
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