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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Deihl is a Beard finalist

We pick him to win it this year

Posted by Stephanie Barna on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Craig Deihl, already a winner
  • Craig Deihl, already a winner

In case you haven't heard this news (which is a couple weeks old already), Craig Deihl of Cypress has made it to the short list for the Best Chef: Southeast James Beard Award.

This is the second year in a row he'll get to fly to New York for the awards ceremony in May and party down as one of the best chefs in the country.

Deihl's got a solid chance of winning the category, even though he's got some stiff competition. Here's a rundown of who's who in the nominee list and my thoughts on their chance to win:

Best Chef: Southeast:

Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten, Athens, Ga — This could be Hugh's year. It's his fifth nomination, and he's become a famous television personality after appearing as a cheftestant on Top Chef Masters and as a judge on Top Chef Texas. His cookbook, A Turn in the New South, is also up for a Beard, and has gotten him plenty of attention, including an appearance on Martha Stewart. Hard to beat. Plus, his expansion to Atlanta with Empire State South means more people have had an opportunity to eat his food. Athens isn't necessarily a place many voters get to.

Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta — This is the Atlanta chef's third nomination, and he's definitely a favorite. But he might not have a strong enough presence on the national scene.

Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville — Ed Lee got a lot of face time on the latest season of Top Chef, but his win would rely on voters who've actually eaten at his Louisville, Ky., restaurant. Not sure how much of a food destination Louisville is, but that could hurt him.

Joseph Lenn, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN — A first-time nominee, Lenn is heading up the kitchen at the renowned Blackberry Farm. He's got a strong Charleston connection, having trained at Johnson & Wales, worked at Peninsula Grill under Bob Carter, and went to Nashville with Sean Brock to work at the Hermitage Hotel. This is his first nomination, so I think he's a longshot.

And then there's Deihl, who's got several things going for him. First, Charleston. A ton of people (and Beard voters) have trekked to Charleston this year just to check out the hype, and Cypress is on that top five list of places to eat. Second, charcuterie. Deihl may wish people didn't pigeonhole him as the meat guy, but the dude's got a serious talent for it. When Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club was in town for the Wine + Food Festival, he apprenticed himself to Deihl for a day and left amazed at the chef's mastery with charcuterie. It brings people to his restaurant, which gives him a chance to show off the rest of his talents.

Overall, I'd say he's got a very, very good chance of winning. He was even picked by Brett Thorn at Restaurant News. Some people say the fact that Charleston chefs have won three out of the last four years could hurt him, but I think Charleston's status as a serious food city puts it in league with New York and New Orleans. Who could quibble with chefs from those cities winning year after year?

The awards will be handed out in New York on May 7.

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