Chef of Auburn’s Acre restaurant a James Beard semifinalist for second straight year

Chef of Auburn’s Acre restaurant a James Beard semifinalist for second straight year
Chef David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn is a James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist for "Best Chef: South" for the second year in a row. (Brittany Faush-Johnson / Alabama NewsCenter)

Forgive David Bancroft if James Beard isn’t always on his mind this week. Willie Nelson’s beard is more front and center for the Auburn chef.

The owner and chef at Acre is part of an elite team of chefs working Willie Nelson’s Chef’s Pot Luck dinner at the country music legend’s ranch in Luck, Texas, near Austin.

Chef Michel Nischan, the 2015 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year, assembled a team of chefs that includes Bancroft, Scott Conant, Michael Chiarello, Dean Fearing, John Mitchell and others to cook for the event. Nelson and some of his friends will perform at the event, which is a fundraiser for Nischan’s Wholesome Wave charity.

When reached by phone to talk about being a semifinalist for “Best Chef: South” in the James Beard Foundation Awards for the second straight year, Bancroft stopped short of saying it was funny how time slips away. (Sorry. Last Willie Nelson pun … maybe.)

“I’m good friends with (fellow semifinalist Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse) and watching Rob and his humility and grace after going through this five times before really helps me appreciate the nomination,” Bancroft said.

Still, it has been a remarkable two years for Bancroft and Acre. He has been featured in commercials for the Southeastern Conference and his restaurant is on the “must” list of sports figures and celebrities visiting Auburn for football or other events.

But the highlight has to be the back-to-back James Beard nominations.

“Being on the list really speaks to the quality of the food, the staff, the community and the restaurant’s place in the community,” Bancroft said.

Bancroft took note of Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings – two previous James Beard chef winners – and his fellow Alabama nominees this year – McDaniel, Bill Briand and Timothy Hontzas.

“I’m humbled to be in the same class as these great, young chefs,” Bancroft said.

Chef David Bancroft of Acre Restaurant in Auburn talks about James Beard awards in this 2016 Alabama NewsCenter interview from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Although “James Beard” isn’t a household name in the South, Bancroft said the notoriety that comes with being nominated has had an impact on Acre. He said he sees a greater diversity of people from outside of Auburn visiting the restaurant when they are in town.

But he is just as impressed with what it means in culinary circles.

“I love it when farmers show up at my back door with product saying they’ve heard about the restaurant,” Bancroft said.

Or when he’s rubbing elbows with other star chefs at Willie Nelson’s ranch making good food for a good cause.

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