These 13 Latino and Latin American Chefs Are Semifinalists For the 2016 James Beard Awards

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Today, the semi-finalists for the James Beard Awards – aka the Oscars of the culinary world – were announced. Though Anthony Bourdain has previously said Latinos are the backbone of the food industry, the truth is, we are also at the forefront.

Across 21 categories, there are at least 13 Latino chefs nominated. Learn more about them below:


Outstanding Pastry Chef: Juan Contreras

Restaurant: Atelier Crenn, San Francisco

Juan Contreras is a chef at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. He was born in Los Angeles, and began working in the food industry after he graduated from high school.

Check out this Pinterest page dedicated to his creations.


Outstanding Pastry Chef: Dahlia Narvaez

Restaurant: Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles

Dahlia Narvaez may have applied for a job behind the counter at La Brea Bakery, but she never ended up doing that job. Instead, she started as a pastry chef, according to LA Weekly. Narvaez has been a James Beard finalist before.



Rising Star of the Year: José Ramírez-Ruiz

Gabi Porter

Restaurant: Semilla, Brooklyn, NY

After years working in other restaurants, José Ramírez-Ruiz and his girlfriend Pam Yung started Semilla because they wanted to do their own thing. Their BYOB Williamsburg popup Chez José garnered a lot of buzz, but the space was too cramped for them to spread their wings. And so, Semilla, with its “vegetable forward,” innovative multi-course tasting menus, was born.

“We had a series of conversations during the fall/winter of 2013 and it just seemed like the right progression,” said Ramírez-Ruiz to Brooklyn Based.



Rising Star of the Year: Daniela Soto-Innes

Restaurant: Cosme, NYC

Daniela Soto-Innes has been in love with food since she observed her grandmother at her bakery She started working with pastries. “I started on pastry, of course, and jumped in to help butcher,” she said, according to Time Out. “I could do it faster than the guys.” Today, she helms Enrique Olvera’s Mexican juggernaut Cosme, which the NY Times recently dubbed the best restaurant in NYC.


Best Chef, Great Lakes: Jose Salazar

Restaurant: Mita’s, Cincinnati

Mita’s, a 130-seat restaurant, is named after Jose Salazar’s Colombian grandmother. The restaurant’s farm-inspired menu focuses on both the traditional and modern foods of Spain and Latin America – with tapas, ceviches, cured hams, cheeses and large plates.


Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Victor Albisu

Restaurant: Del Campo, Washington, D.C.

Victor Albisu has been working as chef for more than a decade. His specialties are French, American, and Latin American cuisine. He also has the distinction of being the first Latino chef to beat Bobby Flay on on “Beat Bobby Flay,” winning his episode in January of 2015.


Best Chef, New York: Ignacio Mattos

Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

Restaurant: Estela, New York City

Uruguay-born Ignacio Mattos is one of NYC’s most celebrated chefs right now. He’s been up for several James Beard awards, and the minimalist small plates at his restaurant Estela have been the talk of the town for two years.


Best Chef, South: Jose Enrique

Restaurant: Jose Enrique, San Juan, PR

Puerto Rican-born Jose Enrique graduated from NYC’s Culinary Institute of America before working in Florida and Louisiana. In 2007, he opened Jose Enrique, a restaurant that has been widely lauded for its modern take on Puerto Rican cooking.


Best Chef, South: José Mendín

Restaurant: Pubbelly, Miami Beach

Puerto Rico-born José Mendín paved his way to the culinary world by bucking tradition. Though cooking was always around him – his parents are foodies and his great-grandmother was a cooking instructor –  he didn’t realize his own passion for food until he lost his volleyball scholarship in college. Mendín made a life-changing choice – he left San Juan for Miami and enrolled in Johnson & Wales to pursue his newfound passion for food. Ten years later, after stints in the kitchen of Nobu Miami, Nobu Hyde Park, and SUSHISAMBA Miami Beach, Mendin put his expertise in fusion cuisines to the test with his very own venture: the ode to pork known as Pubbelly. For Miami, it was love at first bite. Read more about Mendín in our profile here.


Best Chef, Southwest: Omar Flores

Restaurant: Casa Rubia, Dallas

El Paso native Omar Flores grew up in a culinary family. His father was the chef at several Mexican restaurants in El Paso, as well as a family-owned a restaurant in Chicago, according to Dallas News. And then there was his mother’s influence on his cooking. “She always made the best enchiladas,” he told Dallas News. His Spanish tapas restaurant Casa Rubia was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for ‘2014 Best New Restaurant’, Texas Monthly ‘Top Ten Best New Restaurants’, and was chosen as one of the ‘Best Restaurants in the South’ by Southern Living Magazine.


Best Chef: Southwest: Hugo Ortega

Restaurant: Caracol, Houston

Hugo Ortega is the chef/co-owner of three Houston restaurants, and he has been named a James Beard Awards finalist three times. At Caracol, he features regional Mexican seafood dishes from Mexico’s 16 coastal states.


Best Chef: Southwest: Martín Rios

Restaurant: Restaurant Martín, Santa Fe, NM

Restaurant Martín was 20 years in the making for Martín Rios. He grew up in Guadalajara and started working in the restaurant industry as a 17-year-old dishwasher, eventually working his way up. He has received five James Beard nominations, and serves progressive American cuisine at Restaurant Martín.


Best Chef, Southwest: Dana Rodriguez

Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post

Restaurant: Work & Class, Denver

Dana Rodriguez didn’t expect to go into the culinary world. But in 1998, fleeing an abusive marriage, the then-22 year-old abandoned her computer engineering aspirations and wound up at Denver’s Panzano restaurant as a dishwasher, according to the Denver Post. Through hard work and skill she rose through the ranks, eventually running the kitchen at Bistro Vendôme in Larimer Square, and now helming Work & Class.