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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Celebrity chefs dominated the nominations in the top categories of the year's most prestigious culinary awards in the United States.
The James Beard Foundation on Monday named Tom Colicchio, who serves as head judge on the popular television show "Top Chef," as a finalist for outstanding chef. He was joined by Paul Kahan plus last year's nominees, Jose Andres, Dan Barber and Suzanne Goin.
In fact, Kahan, Andres, Barber and Goin have all appeared on Colicchio's show as guest judges.
The nominations were announced as the U.S. recession was taking a bite out of the restaurant industry. With cash-strapped consumers eating out less, some restaurants have suffered double-digit sales drops and laid off workers.
"The biggest difference this year is the economy and what it's doing to the restaurant industry," said Barber, who is known for his inventive dishes using local, seasonal products.
Most top-notch restaurants around the country have weathered the worse economic storm in decades, say Barber and other chefs.
Barber said tough times have forced him and others to work harder without compromising on what they do best. "This will define what 'outstanding' for a restaurant means," he said.
Nominated for best U.S. restaurant this year were celebrity chefs Mario Batali's Babbo and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Jean Georges, both in New York. Other finalists were Boulevard in San Francisco, Fore Street in Portland, Maine and Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama.
As for nominees for the top new U.S. restaurant, James Beard selected three New York eateries - Momofuku Ko, Corton and Scarpetta, together with Andres' The Bazaar in Los Angeles and L20 in Chicago.
The James Beard awards, established in 1990, also honor food media, writing and journalism. Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in New York on May 4.
Editing by Doina Chiacu