Foodies, forget traveling far for praiseworthy dining: Five Maryland restaurants were named semifinalists Wednesday for the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Charleston, the fine-dining restaurant specializing in low-country cuisine in tony Harbor East, is up for Outstanding Hospitality. Clavel Mezcaleria, the Remington-based Mexican restaurant, was nominated for Outstanding Bar. David Zamudio, the former executive chef of Alma Cocina Latina, a Venezuelan restaurant in Station North, was named to the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic category, as was Harley Peet, executive chef of Bas Rouge, a contemporary European restaurant in Easton, and Tony Conte, executive chef of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana in Darnestown.

The James Beard Awards, known as one of the culinary industry’s top honors, have remained relatively elusive for restaurants in Maryland — particularly in Baltimore. The city has only had one winner: Spike Gjerde, the founder of Woodberry Kitchen, who won in 2015 for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.

Irena Stein, founder of Alma Cocina Latina, was pleasantly surprised by the news when reached for comment.

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“We’re so proud,” she said of Zamudio, who left Alma on Dec. 30 to open his own restaurant. “Chef David is an incredible representation of Venezuelan culinary talent, and he’s been an integral part in creating Alma’s culinary program. We can’t wait to continue to watch him excel in his career as he embarks on a new chapter in 2024.”

Lane Harlan, co-owner of Clavel, said the restaurant, up for best bar, is deeply committed to educating the public about the smoky spirit mezcal, which is made with agave.

“Our goal is to make mezcal accessible to our Baltimore community while at the same time supporting the producers and brands that value transparency,” said Harlan, who opened the restaurant with executive chef Carlos Raba in 2015.

Harlan and her team have been visiting Oaxaca and various other states in Mexico for nearly a decade. Harlan estimates that between her bar director, Dre Levon, and staff, their program has accumulated more than 1,200 hours of public education since 2018.

“We don’t carry anything hidden behind a brand label,” she said Wednesday. “All of our mezcals are available by the glass and they are all priced at $12. Whether a bottle costs us $50 or $130 a bottle, our guests are able to drink anything for the same price.”

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Peet said in a statement that it was an honor for him to be recognized “amongst regional chefs who I know to be incredibly talented. This is a true testament to our team’s dedication and passion, and what we’ve built here at Bas Rouge on the Eastern Shore.”

The James Beard Foundation, which was established in 1990 with the first awards given in 1991, will announce the 2024 finalists on April 3, and winners will be celebrated at the award ceremony on June 10 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

This post has been updated.

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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