Kaya has been named a 2024 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant


click to enlarge Lordfer "Lo" Lalicon and Jami Bailey of Kaya - photo by Lee Romero
photo by Lee Romero
Lordfer "Lo" Lalicon and Jami Bailey of Kaya
The city celebrated last year when Henry Moso became Orlando's first James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: South, and now we can celebrate our first James Beard Award finalist in a national category.

Kaya, the Filipino casual fine-dining concept from Kadence alums Lordfer Lalicon and Jami Bailey, was named a James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant, a category that saw the Mills 50 venture vie with 30 other establishments around the nation for the honor.

"I feel less shocked today than I did when the semifinalists were announced, but I'm still surprised," said Lalicon. "I'm just so excited at how people have responsed to our menu and how they've given me the opportunity to provide for them. We do so much to help our community so I know we're deserving."

His voice then crackles and the emotion comes out. "I'm just so grateful to my staff who I know will revel in this news as they've willingly joined me on this journey, and it's not been an easy one. I hope it gives them some validation. I feel this is more for them than it is for me."

Bailey was getting a haircut when she heard the news and could barely contain herself.

"OH MY GOD AHHHHHHH," yelped the utterly jubilant co-owner. "It's so cool and amazing! We always said we want to be a Filipino restaurant that was recognized nationally, so this is a complete shock. I mean what the f*ck!?"

Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi and Mark and Jen Berdin of Kadence were both semifinalists in the Best Chef: South category, but neither made the short list this year.

Lalicon and Bailey opened their modern Filipino restaurant with a homey vibe in late 2022 and earned Top Tables honors that same year. Since then, the restaurant has ensconced itself as a community-minded fixture in Mills 50.

click to enlarge Kaya Restaurant staff - Airam Dato-On
Airam Dato-On
Kaya Restaurant staff
"Honestly, it's all about community and there's no way we get this honor without all the folks who work at the restaurant every day, the purveyors, farmers and artisans who support us and the writers who champion us and the city we love," says Bailey.

Lalicon echoed her sentiment. "The community aspect was instilled in me by Dan Barber when I was at Blue Hill. I want to be an institution in this community and bring value to it. It's always been my plan, to do right by Orlando. So being a finalist means a lot to me. I know the James Beard Foundation takes many aspects into account and don't just hand out awards to a bunch of sushi bars, so I'm very thankful."

So what's next?

Judges and subcommittee members will now dine at the restaurants of the finalists, participate in committee-led discussions regarding their dining experiences, then vote, with the top-scoring nominee per category being announced as the winner June 10 in Chicago.

Kaya will go up against Bar Bacetto in Waitsburg, WA, Barbs-B-Q in Lockhart, TX, Chez Noir in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, Comfort Kitchen in Dorchester, MA, Dakar NOLA in New Orleans, LA, Hayward in McMinnville, OR, Kisser in Nashville, TN, Oro by Nixta in Minneapolis, MN and Shan in Bozeman, MT.

Visit jamesbeard.org for a full list of finalists.

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