James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Jason Licker

Jason’s passion for pastry, life, and travel has taken him across the globe for a true culinary experience. His first internship was at Union Square Café in New York while training at the French Culinary Institute’s Pastry Arts Program. Offering to work for free at first, Jason earned a pastry cook position in the world renown Jean Georges Restaurant, an experience which prepared him for his first Pastry Chef position at Metrazur for Charlie Palmer at the age of 23. Jason then opened The Shore Club in Miami Beach where he was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef overseeing all Food and Beverage Outlets including Nobu Miami Beach, where Jason was first exposed to Asian Cuisine.

Jason has held Executive Pastry Chef positions at the Peninsula New York, The Westin Bund in Shanghai, The Venetian Macau Hotel and Resort, The JW Marriott Hong Kong and formerly was the Corporate Pastry Chef for Cé La Vi Restaurants Worldwide. His win at Iron Chef Thailand is an affirmation of his elite Pastry status. His latest project, Lickerland, Asian-Accented Desserts is Jason’s first cookbook featuring incredible recipes, funny stories, and stunning photos. The cookbook landed Jason on the 2017 James Beard Award Semifinalists list.

Click here to view our recap of his Lickerland launch event at ICC.

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Maggie Huff

Maggie Huff’s desserts offer FT33 guests a taste of something subtly sweet, reflecting a hyper-seasonality that has been the benchmark of Chef Matt McCallister’s critically acclaimed restaurant in the Dallas Design District. She considers herself fortunate to be able to get her hands on superior products such as local honey from Texas Honey Bee Guild, Caprino Royale fresh goat cheese, and produce from the same farmers sourced by the savory side of the restaurant. To that point, she isn’t afraid to employ savory elements—herbs, spices, and vegetables, as well as forms of acid, fat, and salt—to enhance the sweet flavors on the plate.

Prior to FT33, Huff had the media swooning over her sophisticated desserts at Pyramid at the Fairmont Dallas. She originally met and worked with McCallister in the highly lauded kitchen of Stephan Pyles Restaurant. The Dallas native also had a stint in New York City, first attaining her culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute, then working the back of the house in several restaurants, doing both savory and pastry. Her love of food goes back even further: Huff has been baking since she was a kid, cultivating a curiosity in the kitchen while learning from her mother the importance of measuring ingredients.

Nomination: Outstanding Pastry Chef (FT33)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here.

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Tim and Nancy Cushman

With the hopes of becoming a musician, Tim Cushman, moved to California after earning his Bachelors degree from Berklee College of Music. Like many aspiring musicians, he took a job at a restaurant and there he would begin his culinary career. Throughout next 30 years, Cushman spent his time traveling the world and cooking in restaurants in Japan, France, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Mexico, and Taiwan. After his stint all over the world he came back home and in 2007 he and his wife Nancy, opened up O Ya.

Since opening the restaurant, they have received numerous accolades, including being named as the #1 new restaurant in the United States (2008) by The New York Times food critic Frank Bruni. Cushman has received praised by numerous publications such as Food & Wine Magazine, Bon Appetit and Details magazines, recognizing O Ya as one of the Top 10 Sushi Restaurants in the U.S. In 2012, Cushman was given the James Beard award for Best Chef Northeast. Since then, Cushman and his wife Nancy have opened two more restaurants: Roof at Park South in New York in 2014 and izakaya style Hojoko in Boston earlier this year.

Nomination: Outstanding Wine Program (O Ya)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here.

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Steven Cook

After graduating the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Chef Steven Cook completed the Professional Culinary Arts program at the French Culinary Institute in 2000. His education and drive combined make him one of the heavyweights in the Philadelphia scene of restaurateurs and culinary entrepreneurs.

In 2005, as chef-owner of Marigold Kitchen, Cook met his business partner Michael Solomonov. Together, they opened Zahav in 2008. The restaurant earned “4 bells” in its first year from Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig La Ban. At Zahav, Cook and Solomonov served Israeli cuisine of salatim and mezze, and their collaboration also merged with the restaurant movement for small plates.

In 2012, Food & Wine recognized the pair as ‘Empire Builders’ for their restaurant group, CookNSolo. The empire now spans various cuisines and cites, and their first book Zahav: A World of Israel Cooking earned the James Beard Award for “Best International Cookbook” in 2016. In partnership with Broad Street Ministries, Cook also helped develop soon-to-launch, nonprofit Rooster Soup Company.

Nomination: Outstanding Service (Zahav)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here. 

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Josh Skenes

Becoming a chef has always been something Josh Skenes wanted to pursue. He remembers making mud pies as a child and growing his own herbs in his gardens to add to his omelettes. Right after his high school graduation, he moved to Boston with the expectation of going to Art school. However, Skenes rerouted his life and moved to NYC instead to attend the International Culinary Center to pursue his passion for cooking and food.

While a student at the International Culinary Center, he worked full-time under the famed Chef Jean Georges in Jean-Georges Vongerichten. After graduating culinary school in 2001, he moved back to Boston and cooked under Anthony Ambrosia at Ambroia.

In 2003, he moved to San Francisco where he became the executive chef of Chez and help the restaurant received a star rating of 3.5 /4 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Skenes caught the attention of Chef Michael Mina and was asked to help open Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach in 2005. There, Skenes was awarded more stars for his innovative spin to modern America cooking. He returned to San Francisco, where he served as a consultant to various restaurants and help them develop their recipe, menu, and overall concept.

While he was helping others develop their concept, he started to cultivate his  own concept for Saison – which he opened first as pop up and then opened it as a full restaurant. Skenes has received many awards and accolades for his talents and restaurants. This year makes the third consecutive year that Skenes has earned a 3 Michelin star rating for his venue.

NominationOutstanding Service (Saison) 

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here.

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Greg Vernick

Greg Vernick was born into a family who knew a lot about genuine quality food. His mother ran the Haddonfield Diet Shop in New Jersey, and his grandfather ran their family Philadelphia’s butcher shop Friedman’s Market. A graduate of Boston University, he went straight into CIA’s Culinary Program and soon after, the French Culinary Institute’s Sous-Vide Intensive and Pastry Techniques program.

Vernick moved to New York City to work on the line for the opening of Jean-Georges Vongericten’s Perry Street, under Chef Gregory Brainin. Vernick rose through the ranks and served as sous chef at Jean Georges, Nougatine, and Spice Market and became their corporate chef trainer for restaurants in Qatar, Tokyo, Vancouver, Boston, and Park City, Utah. After five years in the Vongerichten empire, Vernick took his final post away from home as chef de cuisine of New York’s Tocqueville.

In 2012, Vernick returned to Philadelphia and he and his wife, Julie, opened the doors to their first restaurants, Vernick Food & Drink, and soon after he received a James Beard Nomination. He would then be nominated for the award, 2 more times in 2015 & 2016.

Nomination: Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (Vernick Food & Drink)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here. 

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Ashley Christensen

In college, Ashley Christensen began cooking by throwing dinner parties for her friends and family. She then recognized her passion for cooking and sharing food,  which lead her to take her first professional cooking job at the age of 21. After years of working in various top restaurants, she would become a restaurateur in 2007, opening Poole’s Dinner. Four years later, she opened three new restaurants, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck and Fox Liquor. In 2014, Ashley was awarded the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast.” Then a year later she opened two new ventures, Death & Texas, a restaurant celebrating wood-fire cooking with Southern ingredients and Bridge Club, a private event loft and cooking classroom. Ashley’s work has gained national attention from such publications as Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The New York Times, Southern Living and Garden & Gun. She has appeared on Food Network’s popular series Iron Chef America and MSNBC’s Your Business. She has also  completed ICC’s Sous-Vide Intensive program.

NominationOutstanding Chef (Poole’s Diner)  

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here. 

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: David Kinch

A recipient of the Best Chefs in America award for the Pacific region from the James Beard Foundation and awarded two Michelin stars for five consecutive years, David Kinch is creating a legacy in the advancement of California cuisine in the 21st century. At Manresa, his restaurant in Los Gatos, California, where he is executive chef and proprietor, his philosophy is fostered by the “sense of place” of the California Coast, and the kind of ingredient-driven cooking and modern technique he studied in France, Spain, Germany, Japan, and the United States.

In 2006, he formed an exclusive partnership with Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which supplies Manresa with year-round provisions and vegetables grown using biodynamic practices. By producing sustainable vegetables, he is creating a closed circle among guests, the garden and his highly personal cuisine. Today, David Kinch is a Dean at the California campus of the International Culinary Center.

Nomination: Outstanding Restaurant (Manresa)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here. 

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Tory Miller

Before Miller was a devotee to sustainability, he graduated the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), looking for training and experience in professional kitchens. He worked in several of New York’s best restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park and Judson Grill, before arriving at L’Etoile to work as Odessa Piper’s chef de cuisine. In 2005, Miller purchased the restaurant with his sister and business partner, Traci Miller. Seven years later, he earned L’Etoile’s second James Beard Award for “Best Chef, Midwest.”

While Madison, Wisconsin may not be known as a culinary mecca,  Chef Tory Miller has created a small gustatory oasis with his four restaurants: L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo, and Estrellón. Miller specializes in dishes made from locally grown, sustainable, organic ingredients, executed in part through a rigorous “put-by” system, in which he preserves summer produce for use year round.

Nomination: Outstanding Restaurant (L’Etoile)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here. 

James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist: Ghaya Oliveira

Upon graduating from the Culinary Academy, Ghaya earned her degree in Restaurant Management from the French Culinary Institute. Ghaya joined Café Boulud in New York in 2001. As a pastry commis, under Executive Pastry Chef Remy Funfrock, Ghaya learned the importance of precision and refined her technique. At Café Boulud, Ghaya was promoted on several occasions, first to Pastry Cook, then to Pastry Sous Chef. She continued to learn from Chef Funfrock, as well as Daniel Boulud’s Corporate Pastry Chef Eric Bertoia. She credits the former with teaching her to cook fruit with delicacy, care and respect for their natural flavors.

When Chef Daniel Boulud opened Bar Boulud in 2007, he called upon Ghaya to become Executive Pastry Chef.She became responsible for menu development and sourcing ingredients, citing the local farmers’ markets as inspiration. When neighboring Boulud Sud opened in May 2011, Ghaya’s sheer talent and ambition led Boulud to make her the Executive Pastry Chef there, too. At Boulud Sud she debuted her Grapefruit Givré – a whimsical dessert composed of a frozen grapefruit filled with grapefruit sorbet, fresh grapefruit jam, sesame crumble, sesame foam and rose water loukoum, topped with halva ‘hair’– which has received countless press accolades and praises from diners.

In July 2013, Boulud named Ghaya Executive Pastry at his flagship DANIEL. She brings traditional French pastry training, a refined palate, and unexpected flavor combinations, juxtaposed with a sense of playfulness; but above all, she brings an unwavering desire to delight! Her professional approach and talent were recognized by the James Beard Foundation with a 2012 nomination for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” and again in 2015, 2016. “Working for Daniel means always reaching for the best,” she says. “It’s knowing how to be classic and modern at the same time.”

Nomination: Outstanding Pastry Chef (Daniel)

For more information on the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalists, click here.