Nine Maine restaurants, chefs and brewmasters are on this year’s list of semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, considered the most prestigious in the American food world.

Maine’s 2016 semifinalists cover seven categories – there are 21 Restaurant and Chef categories in total – including Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Restaurant. The group was selected from more than 20,000 online entries.

The Honey Paw, in Portland, was nominated in the Best New Restaurant category, which is given to a restaurant opened in 2015 that “already displays excellence…and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”

In the Outstanding Restaurant category, Fore Street of Portland received a nod. It has received seven previous nominations; the restaurant was a semi-finalist in this same category (which requires that a restaurant be at least 10 years old) last year and a finalist in 2010. In 2004, Fore Street chef Sam Hayward was the first chef from Maine ever to receive a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast.

Rob Tod, of Allagash Brewing Company, in Portland, is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional. If the third time really is a charm, Tod could hear could hear good news this year. He has been a semifinalist in this category for the past two years.

Last year, Cara Stadler, of Tao Yuan in Brunswick, was a finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, a category for chefs aged 30 or younger. She was a semifinalist as well, the year before, and has again been named a semifinalist in this category. Stadler also owns Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland.

The above national awards all pit Maine food professionals against contenders from around the United States. Candidates for Best Chef: Northeast face a smaller pool – competition from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as each other. This year’s Maine semifinalists are Erin French of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom; Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden; Keiko Suzuki Steinberger of Suzuki’s Sushi Bar in Rockland; and Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor of Eventide Oyster Co., Portland.

Wiley and Taylor were finalists in this same category for Eventide last year. The pair are also partners (with Arlin Smith) in Hugo’s and The Honey Paw, which is up for its own award. This is Brian Hill’s seventh nomination for a regional Best Chef award. Asked about his nomination by the Press Herald last year, he said, “It happens to a lot of chefs that they are nominated again and again. I don’t know the process they use. But yeah, we’ve been making the Susan Lucci joke all week.”

The large group of semifinalists will be thinned by an independent, volunteer panel of judges – all in the food world – and finalists announced on March 15. The awards are given out on May 2 in a gala at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, where the event was held last year. Before that, the “Oscars of the food world,” as they are often called, had never been held outside New York City, where the James Beard Foundation is based.

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