There’s a strong Alabama flavor to this year’s list of semifinalists for the prestigious James Beard 2020 Restaurant and Chef Awards, which celebrates leaders in the culinary industry.
Chef Adam Evans and his wife, Suzanne Humphries Evans, opened Automatic Seafood in a 1940s warehouse in April 2019 and it has become a vibrant addition to Birmingham’s restaurant scene. Frank and Pardis Stitt, of Highlands Bar & Grill acclaim, opened Chez Fonfon in 2000 next door to their Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant in 2018. They describe Chez Fonfon as a “cozy, casual French bistro that we hope transfers you to Paris, Lyon or Nice.”
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Other Alabama semifinalists are the Atomic Lounge in Birmingham for Best Bar Program, and Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs in Orange Beach, Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, and Duane Nutter of Southern National in Mobile, all in the Best Chef: South category.
Briand is a semifinalist for the fifth year in a row, while Hontzas has earned the designation for the fourth year in a row. Nutter and business partner Reggie Washington were semifinalists for Outstanding Service for their Atlanta restaurant, One Flew South, in 2014 and 2015, and for Southern National as Outstanding New Restaurant in 2018. The Atomic, opened by husband and wife team Feizal Valli and Rachael Roberts in 2017, is a semifinalist for the third year running.
A Beard Award is considered the ultimate honor for culinary professionals, akin to an Academy Award for the film industry. Winning a Beard Award often results in national fame.
The 2020 James Beard Awards mark the 30th anniversary of “America’s most coveted and comprehensive honors for chefs, restaurants, journalists, authors and other leaders in the food and beverage industry,” the James Beard Foundation said in a news release. The nominees, or finalists, will be announced March 25. The James Beard Awards Gala to announce the winners will take place May 4 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.