We're moving up in the culinary world, Houston. Last year, five semi-finalists from Houston were in the running for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards.
This year, we're up to six. And what a six they are.
Mirroring our own top pick for the best new restaurant of 2011, the Beard Foundation has named Anita Jaisinghani's Pondicheri as one of the semi-finalists in the Best New Restaurant category. Jaisinghani also racked up another acknowledgment for herself in the Best Chef: Southwest category, where she's joined by only a handful of other Texas chefs.
Also named as semi-finalists in the Best Chef: Southwest category along with Jaisinghani are Manabu Horiuchi (or Hori-san) of Kata Robata and Hugo Ortega of Hugo's. The trio are arguably among the most talented chefs working in the city right now. And even with newcomer Uchi racking them up on Lower Westheimer, true fish fans know that Hori-san still has the game to beat when it comes to sushi in Houston.
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Also in the running for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards: Grant Gordon, the very young chef at Tony's, in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category and Anvil Bar & Refuge in the Outstanding Bar Program category. This is the second year in a row for Anvil to receive a nod from the Beard Foundation; last year, owner Bobby Heugel was a semi-finalist in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional category.
Finalists will be selected from this list and announced on March 19, live from Las Vegas. As with prior years, those finalists will be celebrated and winners announced at the annual awards ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on May 7.