March 22, 2010 / 8:50 PM / 9 years ago

Foreign-born chefs nominated for top U.S. award

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Spanish tapas and Vietnamese pho are a world apart in origin and taste. Two chefs who have helped to popularize these dishes in the United States were nominated on Monday as tops in their field.

An undated handout photo of Charles Phan who was born in Vietnam and operates The Slanted Door in San Francisco. REUTERS/Frankie Frankey/Handout

The James Beard Foundation said Spanish native Jose Andres who owns Minibar in Washington and Charles Phan who was born in Vietnam and operates The Slanted Door in San Francisco were nominated for its outstanding U.S. chef award.

“Our mission is to celebrate our culinary diversity, which reflects our diversity as a nation,” said Susan Ungaro, the foundation’s president.

The other three finalists were born in the United States and known for their contemporary American foods: Tom Colicchio of Craft in New York; Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles and Gary Danko with his namesake eatery in San Francisco.

The James Beard awards, established in 1990, are the most prestigious cooking honors in the United States. The nominations were announced in New Orleans, while the awards will be given in New York on May 2 and May 3.

This year’s top restaurant nominees have familiar vibes: Italian (Babbo in New York and Spiaggia in Chicago); French (Daniel in New York) and American (Boulevard in San Francisco and Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama).

The top new U.S. eateries cited are mostly either in New York — Marea and Locanda Verde, or San Francisco — Flour + Water, Frances and RN74. Bibou in Philadelphia was also nominated as top new restaurant.

James Beard nominations have traditionally been dominated by chefs who specialize in American, French and Italian fares.

Phan’s and Andres’ top chef nominations reflect the ever-growing popularity of Southeast Asian cooking and enthusiasm for cutting-edge dishes in the United States.

Phan’s nod is “symbolic of how well known and popular his Slanted Door cuisine has become,” Ungaro said, referring to Phan’s restaurant.

As for Andres, “his restaurants feature an exciting menu of molecular gastronomy with Spanish flair,” she added.

Phan and Andres have been long-time U.S. residents, each operating multiple, successful restaurants.

Andres, now 40, moved to the United States in 1990, while Phan and his family immigrated to San Francisco in 1977.

“What I see over the years is that boundaries are more blurred. People don’t look at food as Italian, French or Vietnamese,” the 47-year-old Phan said. “People look at how you serve them and what you bring to the table, and are you bringing anything new and exciting?”

Editing by Philip Barbara

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