It may be a matter of perspective.
A Boston reviewer went on record recently lamenting the fact that his city only had two nominees for the coveted James Beard Awards in the category of best chef Northeast this year. The critic went so far as to observe that the system [of nominating worthy candidates] was, in the critic’s words, “not working.”
From where we sit in Providence and Rhode Island, we’re pretty pleased with the system and the whole James Beard thing this year. On the 2011 list of nominees are a local restaurant and two of our own local chefs. In fact, they are on the same list that my distinguished colleague from Beantown writes about with such disdain.
Champe Spiedel, proprietor and chef at Persimmon in Bristol is in the running for best chef Northeast, as is Matt Jennings, chef and owner of Farmstead and La Laiterie on Providence’s East Side. [La Laiterie is the restaurant for which Jennings was nominated.] In addition, Cook & Brown Public House is a semifinalist for the James Beard award for best new restaurant. Owner/chef Nemo Bolin was also nominated for Food & Wine magazine and the foodie website Eatocracy’s the people’s best new chef award and finished as a semifinalist. That award went to Boston chef Jamie Bissonette of the restaurant Coppa.
Jenny Bolin, Nemo’s wife, wrote in an e-mail to friends of the restaurant that the couple was “truly humbled by this, and excited that Rhode Island is well-represented in the best new chef category. Congratulations to our fellow Rhodies!”
Cook & Brown is celebrating its one-year anniversary. The New American/locavore restaurant on Hope Street on the Restaurant Row opened on St. Patrick’s Day of 2010. In the local parlance, Cook & Brown is where the restaurant Oak “used to be.”
Also among the finalists in the best new chef sweepstakes was Jake Rojas, chef of the new Tallulah on Thames in Newport. Another, chef Robert Sisca of Bistro du Midi in Boston, hails from Gracie’s in Providence. And the phenomenon is not confined to awards.
When the popular reality TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” starring celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay came to Providence to shoot an episode at Downcity, the production company literally did not get enough material – read that “things that needed fixing”– to fill the entire show. The crew went out and shot footage at Restaurant CAV to show as an example of the best of Providence fine dining, a first in the series’ history.
Perhaps our neighbors in Massachusetts are discovering what we who dine out often have known for years. Fine-dining awards in New England no longer automatically go to Boston chefs and restaurateurs. Providence and Rhode Island’s restaurants have their A-game on.