Orlando chefs, bakers and restaurateurs named James Beard Award semifinalists

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click to enlarge Rabii Saber - Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Rabii Saber
The past two years have been tumultuous ones for the James Beard Foundation, specifically its awards program. For one, they were canceled in 2020 and 2021, in part because of the pandemic, but more so out of a need to overhaul the program after several internal rebukes and a New York Times report that revealed not a single Black chef was among the crop of 2020 winners.

What ensued was a full audit of the awards program and its policies and procedures.

Among its objectives were to "remove any systemic bias," "increase the diversity of the voting body" and "increase transparency in how the Awards function."
click to enlarge Sue and Jason Chin - Rob Bartlett
Rob Bartlett
Sue and Jason Chin
Today, the Foundation announced the semifinalists for its chef and restaurant categories and four Orlando culinarians made the grade: Henry Moso of Kabooki Sushi for Best Chef: South, Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando for Outstanding Pastry Chef, Evette Rahman of Sister Honey's for Outstanding Baker and Jason and Sue Chin of the Good Salt Restaurant Group for Outstanding Restaurateur.

It marks the second nom for Moso, who was named semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2020, and Rabii Saber, who was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2019.
click to enlarge Henry Moso - Photo via Kabooki Sushi
Photo via Kabooki Sushi
Henry Moso
It's a first for Rahman, whose numerous accolades include being a three-time dessert champion at the World Food Championships, as well as the Chins who run four of the most highly lauded restaurants in the city — Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, Osprey Tavern, Reyes Mezcaleria and The Monroe — under the Good Salt Restaurant Group umbrella.

Of note is the diversity, and immigrant roots, of this year's list of nominees. Moso is from Laos, Saber from Morocco, Rahman from Jamaica and the Chins are both of Korean descent (Sue was born in Seoul).
click to enlarge Evette Rahman - World Food Championships
World Food Championships
Evette Rahman
Making it onto the long list of semifinalists has been a regular occurrence for Orlando and Central Florida chefs, but none have ever made it to the short list of finalists.

That could change this year as a result of some procedural changes.

Restaurant and Chef Awards Subcommittee members comprised of industry authorities including chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and critics produce the list of semifinalists after which the ballot is distributed online to a larger voting body who whittle the list down to five finalists per category.

To get on that short list, Central Florida chefs need the votes of this electoral college. In the past, the trick was to get these members to eat at their restaurant, a proposition that's proven difficult for previous Orlando-area semifinalists.

But this year, things are different. Now that the semifinalists have been announced, Tasting Panelists, tasked with visiting the nominated restaurants, will help determine the finalists via a ballot, as will Subcommittee members and the Scouts who've actively searched for said candidates. The five semifinalists with the highest number of votes become the finalists, all of whom will be announced March 16.
Once the five finalists in each category have been determined, a judging form will be sent out to all Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee members and Tasting Panelists who will visit all the finalists and score their experiences based on a number of criteria.

Winners will be announced at the James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony June 13 in Chicago.

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