One Utah chef picked as a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards

The James Beard Foundation announced the 2023 restaurant and chef award nominees on Wednesday.

(Danny La | Tribune file photo) Diners enjoy Mediterranean food at Mazza in Salt Lake City.

One Salt Lake City chef made it to the finals of the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards for 2023.

Ali Sabbah — the chef at Mazza, which has served Middle Eastern cuisine for over 20 years in Salt Lake City — was named one of five finalists in the “outstanding chef” category for the Mountain region, the foundation announced Wednesday.

“It feels great,” Sabbah said in an interview. “We have worked hard for 23-plus years and someone’s recognition, especially a body like The James Beard Foundation, is very gratifying.”

Mazza, like other local eateries, took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but survived a “major disaster financially,” Sabbah said. He had to close Mazza’s Sandy location, and left its 9th and 9th location after being unable to negotiate a deal with the landlords.

The award, Sabbah said, speaks to Mazza’s plan to stick around — and credited his crew, and the community’s unwavering support.

The Mountain region covers Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Sabbah was one of five Utah chefs among the 20 regional semifinalists.

The foundation said the category recognizes “chefs who set high standards in their culinary skills and leadership abilities, and who are making efforts to help create a sustainable work culture in their respective regions, while contributing to their broader community.”

Sabbah said he feels humbled to a part of the category with other talented Utah chefs. “I honestly did not think I would be able to be a part of this,” he said

The other regional semifinalists from Utah were: Paul Chamberlain and Logen Crew of SLC Eatery, Andrew Fuller of Oquirrh, Briar Handly of Handle, and Young-Ho Kang and Peter Kim of The Angry Korean.

Four more Utah eateries were named as semifinalists in nationwide categories, but none made it to the finals. They were:

Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm, in Boulder, in the “outstanding restaurant” category.

Normal Ice Cream, in Salt Lake City, in the “outstanding bakery” category.

• Manoli’s, a Greek restaurant in Salt Lake City, in the “outstanding hospitality” category.

Post Office Place, a bar in downtown Salt Lake City, in the “outstanding bar” category.

Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on June 5.