Record number of Utahns are ‘best chef’ semifinalists in James Beard competition

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Moudi Sbeity, chef and co-owner of Laziz Kitchen, is one of five semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef" award for the Mountain region.

Chefs from five Utah restaurants have been named regional semifinalists in the 2020 James Beard Foundation’s annual awards competition, the most prestigious recognition program for the food and beverage industry.

It’s a record number of “best chef” nominations for the Beehive State, a direct result of a new Mountain region add this year.

Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, co-owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, have once again been selected for their farm-to-table restaurant that has been in operation for some two decades.

Joining them on the regional list are:

• Nick Fahs, David Barboza and Mike Blocher, co-owners of Table X in Salt Lake City.

• Briar Handly, owner of Handle in Park City and HSL in Salt Lake City.

• Peggi Ince-Whiting, Kyoto Japanese Restaurant, Salt Lake City.

• Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, Laziz Kitchen, Salt Lake City.

The Utah chefs will compete against 15 other chefs/restaurants honored in the Mountain region, which also includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

This is the 30th anniversary of the James Beard awards. Last year, in an effort to better recognize the country’s exploding restaurant industry and its inclusion of more women and minorities, the foundation added two new categories and reorganized others.

There now are 12 regional awards, up from 10, and California, Texas and New York each has its own division.

In addition to its regional honors, the foundation also gives awards for Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Bar Program, Outstanding Baker and a Rising Star Chef, which honors someone 30 or under.

Finalists in each category will be announced March 25 and the winners will be honored in May.

To see the full list of 2020 semifinalists, visit the James Beard Foundation website.