Two small-town Utah chefs — and unlikely wilderness activists — get third nomination for prestigious James Beard Award

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jen Castle, left, and Blake Spalding, center, owners of Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, sign copies of their new cookbook, "This Immeasurable Place: Food and Farming from the Edge of Wilderness," at the Winter Market at the Rio Grande Depot, Saturday, December 9, 2017.

For the third year, Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, co-owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, have been named semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards, the nation’s most prestigious recognition program for professionals in the food and beverage industry.

Castle and Spalding are among 20 semifinalists in the Best Chef: Southwest category, which includes chefs from Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Their farm-to-table restaurant has been operating for nearly two decades at the base of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Castle and Spalding say the wilderness area is the reason for the restaurant’s existence and thus have become activists speaking out against President Donald Trump and his decision to dismantle the 1.9 million-acre monument into three smaller parcels.

The Utah chefs also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit to stop the changes, thrusting them into national headlines.

Each year the foundation gives awards in 21 categories, including exceptional chefs, restaurants, wine and spirit professionals, pastry chefs and bakers.

Finalists in each category will be announced March 27 and winners will be honored at a gala in Chicago. For a full list of semifinalists, visit jamesbeard.org/awards.