by Nancy Stiles
The James Beard Foundation Award finalists were announced last week, and out of several St. Louis semifinalists, only one will make it to Chicago this year: Gerard Craft. That should be no surprise -- it's his sixth nomination. We talked to Craft about what that means for him, his team and whether he thinks he's the Susan Lucci of the James Beard Awards.
"We feel super honored as we have each time," Craft tells Gut Check. "It's a big deal for us and a big deal for our team -- mostly that what we're doing is obviously still relevant. That's big for us."
Craft is a finalist in the Best Chef: Midwest category, in which he's been nominated for the past four years but hasn't yet won. He'll be up against Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, Justin Carlisle of Ardent in Milwaukee, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis and Lenny Russo, Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market in St. Paul.
In short, Craft is due for a win. We likened him to Leonardo DiCaprio, who has notoriously been nominated for an Oscar four times without winning. Craft says he usually gets the Susan Lucci reference -- the famous soap-opera star who was nominated for a whopping eighteen Emmy awards before finally winning in 1999.
"It's one of those things where obviously you want to win all the time, but at the same time it's still a great honor," he says. "It's crazy, because everybody's like, 'Oh, you got robbed!' And the fact is at this point, whether it's the semifinals or the finals, all these guys are really, really talented. It's not like there's a bunch of hacks you're going against."
The awards will be announced at the James Beard Foundation's annual gala in Chicago on May 4. Whether Craft wins or not, you can be sure he'll continue to make a mark on St. Louis; he's introducing a new fast-casual concept downtown this summer.
"I'm friends with the guys who beat me the past two years, and they're both awesome chefs. So what can you really say?" Craft says. "It's cool even to see the list ten years down the road, and how much the Midwest is filling up with ridiculous talent. It's cool to be a part of that."
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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