It was a big week for Washington restaurants, as the James Beard Foundation and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington both announced their nominees for their respective 2009 awards.  Admittedly, only a portion of our local chefs and restaurateurs were realistically holding their breaths waiting for both, but it was still a dramatic week for the DC dining scene all the same.

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Beard Awards photo courtesy of http://culinarygadabout.blogspot.com

Among the Beard award nominees, Washington can proudly lay claim to a number of top-tier nods: 

Jose Andres – one of our most recognizable ‘local’ talents after TV appearances on Top Chef, No Reservations and his own Made In Spain – is nominated for Outstanding Chef.  Like two of his competitors this year (Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York and Suzanne Goins of Lucque in LA), Andres is back for another shot at the title after losing out to Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea last year.  Though he’s nominated for Minibar, Andres’ new Bazaar in Los Angeles could give him the boost he needs to top Tom Colicchio and the other top chefs in this category.

Komi’s Johnny Monis is also a repeat nominee for a marquee category: Rising Star Chef of the Year.  This award highlights a standout chef under the age of 30, and it’s interesting to note that four of this year’s six nominees were also up for the award last year (including Monis), which went to Cafe Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen.

Washingtonians were rightly proud of Central Michel Richard’s win for Best New Restaurant last year, but the closest thing to defending that title we can hope for is a win for Jose Andres’ Bazaar.  If I had to guess, though, my money’s got to be on Vienna-native David Chang’s Momofuku Ko.

When it comes to the Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic category, the Washington area absolutely overwhelmed the rest of the region (which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia as well as the District).  Three of the five nominees are local favorites: Vikram Sunderam of Rasika, Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, and Peter Pastan of Obelisk.  Tough choice!

Even our local journalists received recognition from the nominating committee, with the Post’s Tom Sietsema receiving two nominations and the Post’s Food section (helmed by Joe Yonan) earning a nod of their own.

All in all, a pretty decent showing by Washington chefs, restaurants and writers…especially when compared to the number of nominees recognized from other major cities across the country.

rammy_sig_final2And the RAMMYs?  Since they ARE the awards for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, all of the nominees are obviously going to be local.  Reading through the list of candidates for the various awards, it’s sometimes more interesting to look for the folks who aren’t nominated.

The full list of nominees can be found on the main page of the RAMW site, but it’s worth noting the absence  of several of the aforementioned Beard nominees – Johnny Monis and Peter Pastan – as well as local favorites like Michael Landrum.  Why, you might ask?  It’s easy to assume, as one anonymous commenter did over at Metrocurean, that someone at RAMW is holding a grudge against these talented chefs. 

But the answer is actually pretty straightforward and simple.  In order to be nominated for a RAMMY, you have to be a member of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.  A quick look at their current membership list confirms that Komi, Obelisk, and the Ray’s family of restaurants are not members and are therefore ineligible for consideration.

That being said, the lists of nominees for key categories like Upscale Casual restaurant and Rising Culinary Star are definitely  made up of some of the brightest culinary lights in the area…there are very few categories this year where one nominee is a clear favorite.

Have you taken a look at the nominees yet?  If so, what do you think – any glaring omissions or definite standouts?

Keep an eye on the RAMW site – several of the categories, including Neighborhood Gathering Place, Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene, and Power Spot, are open for voting by the public.  We’ll put up a link when voting opens – and we may even give a hint or two about our favorites when the time comes.

For now, we offer a heartfelt congratulations to all of the nominees for Beard Awards and RAMMYs.  With this much talent in the Washington area, it’s no wonder we’re finally starting to get some of the credit we deserve among foodies across the country.