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No new Beard medallions awarded locally


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alas, another annual list of James Beard Foundation award finalists has been released bearing nary a Hawaii chef's name.

No medallions for them, for one year — bringing thoughts of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi to mind.

Hawaii had three chefs and three restaurants on last month's semifinalist roster, including Hiroshi Fukui, Beverly Gannon and Peter Merriman, as well as Alan Wong's, Merriman's — Kapalua and La Mer.

It was a first for Fukui, but Gannon has been a finalist at least once and Merriman at least twice.

Hawaii's gastronomic glitterati can't seem to get a break from the foundation ever since the state was geographically categorized with California and removed from the Northwest/Hawaii division.

In truth, Hawaii was taken out of the Northwest/Hawaii division in 2007 and the Aloha State did not have any finalists in 2005 or 2006, according to the clunky online archive.

Former A Pacific Cafe chef-owner Jean-Marie Josselin is sort of the Susan Lucci of Hawaii James Beard finalists, having been nominated six times without a win. He left Hawaii in 2000 to open 808, at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Likewise, Sam Choy has been nominated at least four times, for his Breakfast Lunch & Crab and now-closed Sam Choy's Diamond Head and Sam Choy's Kaloko restaurants.

According to a how-the-awards-work primer penned by Star-Bulletin Features Editor Betty Shimabukuro in 2000, a national reputation is critical.

However, with the economy the way it has been, national food writers don't get here to taste and write about Hawaii chefs' cuisine as much as we — or they — might like. That makes getting national exposure more challenging for chefs and restaurateurs in Hawaii than it is in say, food-magazine-Mecca Manhattan, or even funky-named Yountville, Calif., where Thomas Keller's French Laundry restaurant, with its legendary yearlong wait for a reservation, is more accessible.

Nevertheless, until the foundation gets more voters familiar with Hawaii's haute cuisine scene, we do have noteworthy medallion-bearing chefs and eateries including:

Roy Yamaguchi, 1993 for Roy's restaurant in Hawaii Kai — which birthed an empire; Alan Wong, 1996 — who had been nominated even before opening his eponymous South King Street restaurant and other eateries; and Chef George Mavrothalassitis, chef-owner of Chef Mavro, in 2003.

The foundation also has cited some local favorites as America's Classics, for being treasured by their communities, including Helena's Hawaiian Food in 2000; Sam Choy's Kaloko, in Kona, in 2004 and Hamura's Saimin Stand in Lihue, Kauai, in 2006.

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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).