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‘This is not a fly-by city anymore:’ Two St. Louis chefs named finalists for James Beard awards

Carmen Troesser | Sauce Magazine
Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus, is one of two St. Louis chefs named finalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Two St. Louis chefs are finalists in the James Beard Foundation Awards in the category of Best Chef: Midwest. Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Café and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, and Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus, proceed to the final round before the winner is announced May 2 at the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago.

On Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air” in partnership with Sauce Magazine,  Nashan said he was “just grateful to be on the bus.”

“And I’ve got a partner on the bus on the way to Chicago: it is going to get rowdy,” he continued, mentioning Willmann.

Willmann said that he hopes people recognize that when their names go up for these nominations, it is not just the chef behind the nomination.

“It means a lot for my staff,” Willmann said. “It is important to focus on how many of us it takes to pull something off.”

The St. Louis area had a total of eight semi-finalist nominations for various awards, including Mike Randolph of Público and Ben Poremba of Elaia for Best Chef: Midwest, as well as Eric Heath of Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville for Best Chef: Great Lakes.  Público was also a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant. Side Project Cellar was a semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program. Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Mo. was nominated for Outstanding Service. They did not proceed to final round.

To have two chefs from St. Louis in the finalist round for Best Chef: Midwest is a big deal, said Catherine Klene, Sauce Magazine’s managing editor.

Credit Greg Rannells | Sauce Magazine
Kevin Nashan

"There's so much talent in this town, this is not a fly-by city anymore," said Nashan.

Willmann said that this recognition comes after years of hard work.

“About 12 or 13 years ago, when Kevin took over Sidney Street and I started kicking over in Edwardsville and then Gerard Craft on Sidney with Niche, we decided to set out to do something a little different and to push ourselves harder than we’d seen others push,” Willmann said. “I think that what we’re seeing now is the culmination of that effort and all the wonderful people who have contributed along the way. The scene has exploded. Not to be braggadocios, but the three of us sat down and decided to push ourselves harder and we’re starting to see some of that.”

Gerard Craft, notably, became the first chef from St. Louis to win the James Beard Foundation’s award for “Best Chef: Midwest” last year. Earlier in 2016, host Don Marsh spoke with Craft about the change in the restaurant scene in St. Louis:

"I love this town and I love my buddies. It is a great time to be in St. Louis."

“It’s amazing when I bring other chefs to St. Louis and they see everything that’s going on,” he said. “You look at all the chefs in our group and then at guys like Kevin Nashan, who have Sidney Street and his new Peacemaker, or Mike Randolph who has Público, or Kevin Willmann with Farmhaus or Mike Emerson with Pappy’s or Ricky with The Southern…there’s all these guys doing their own thing. Everybody’s doing something a little bit different. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It is one of the most exciting times to be in St. Louis. People are starting to take notice.”

Nashan concurs, wholeheartedly: "I love this town and I love my buddies. It is a great time to be in St. Louis. This isn't it. There's more to come."

This Sound Bites segment is produced as a part of a partnership between Sauce Magazine and St. Louis Public Radio. 

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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