James Beard Awards recognize Ekiben and Foraged chefs — but not Cindy Wolf

Published on: January 25, 2023 2:52 PM EST|Updated on: January 25, 2023 3:54 PM EST

Fried oysters at Charleston.
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While the rest of the world is looking at the Oscar nominees, foodies’ eyes are on the James Beard Awards. And this year, Baltimore has another strong showing.

Two Baltimore restaurateurs were nominated for the best mid-Atlantic chef category: Steve Chu of Ekiben and Chris Amendola of Foraged in Station North.

“I am still in shock. I cannot believe it. It’s mind-blowing,” Amendola said. “I am humbled to be included on that list. After so many years of idolizing those chefs … now my name’s on that list. That is crazy.”

He found out about his nomination from Chu, who texted him in the morning to say congratulations. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Amendola said.

Amendola’s “hyper-seasonal” restaurant features foraged mushrooms, ramps and other produce. He has also worked to help conserve ramps from overharvesting.

At Ekiben, which now has three branches in Baltimore, Chu has cultivated a passionate following for his take on international cuisine. He also made headlines in 2021 for driving several hours to prepare food for a longtime customer who was terminally ill.

Reached by phone on his way to a Lunar New Year pop-up at Ekiben’s Hampden location, Chu called the award “cool,” but emphasized that the recognition was really owed to his staff, including co-owner Ephrem Abebe. “The teams worked really hard. It’s so weird being a single person being nominated for something. It’s the whole team. They’re out there grinding in the rain making sandwiches,” the New York Kin Shop alum said.

It’s the second round of James Beard Awards since a 2021 audit aimed at making the program more representative of the food world as a whole. In a statement, restaurant and chef awards committee chair Adrian Miller called the semifinalists “a truly diverse group of talented individuals across the culinary industry.”

To the likely surprise of some foodies in the region, one of the names on the shortlist was not Cindy Wolf, the Charleston chef who has been named a semifinalist so many times that she has called herself the “Susan Lucci of the James Beard award nominees.” (Lucci was nominated for a Daytime Emmy 19 times before winning for her role on “All My Children.”)

However, Charleston wasn’t completely snubbed. The Harbor East restaurant was recognized in the category of outstanding hospitality.

In a statement from Foreman Wolf, which owns Charleston and other restaurants in the area, spokeswoman Sue-Jean Kang said it marked the restaurant’s 23rd nomination overall.

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“We are grateful to be nominated, especially in such an important category,” co-owner Tony Foreman said in a statement. “This is a restaurant’s essential function — to make guests feel welcome and cared for.”

Wolf said in a statement: “I am so proud of all of our staff, front to back, that put everything they have, every day, into making our guests’ experience as warm, welcome and excellent as it can be.”

Last year, Wolf and another local favorite, Peter Chang, were named semifinalists in the outstanding chef category.

Other local eateries also made the cut this year: Canton’s NiHao was named in the category of best new restaurant, while Carlos Raba of Clavel Mezcaleria was named a semifinalist in the best chef: mid-Atlantic category.

To date, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen is the only Baltimore chef ever to win a James Beard Award.