Two chefs from Maine received a James Beard Award – a coveted recognition that chefs consider to be the Oscars of the food world – on Monday night.
Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor, chef/co-owners of three Portland restaurants, won the award in the Best Chef: Northeast category.
Along with their manager, Arlin Smith, Wiley and Taylor own and operate Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s. This was their third nomination. They were finalists last year.
“Thank you to our amazing crew back in Portland, Maine. This belongs to you guys,” Wiley said during his acceptance speech in Chicago.
Taylor took a moment to thank Smith, who did not attend the ceremony, saying, “This (award) is 33 percent yours.”
The Portland chefs went up against some stiff competition that included chefs from restaurants in Boston; Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island.
Best Chef nominees, according to the James Beard Foundation, must have worked for at least five years as chefs and “have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions.”
This year, a dozen Maine chefs, restaurants, bakers and brew masters were named semifinalists for the 2017 James Beard Awards.
Only Taylor and Wiley made it to the finals. They were selected to be among five finalists by an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges across the country that included restaurant critics, food editors and past winners.
Last year, several Mainers were chosen as finalists, but none came home with the award. Chefs consider a James Beard Award to be the most prestigious cooking honor they can get.
Other Maine chefs who have won Best Chef: Northeast are Sam Hayward of Fore Street in Portland, in 2004; Rob Evans, former owner of Hugo’s in Portland, in 2009; Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of the former Arrows in Ogunquit, in 2010; and Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland, in 2013.
Evans told the Portland Press Herald in an interview last year that there are a lot of perks to winning the award, in addition to the medal.
Evans said the winners draw “another class” of diners – people who really love food – into their restaurants. Evans sold Hugo’s to Taylor, Wiley and Smith in 2012. The trio opened Eventide Oyster Co. later that year, around the time that Maine oysters were becoming chic to eat.
Eventide and Honey Paw reflect where American dining is headed – a fast and casual place where chefs can showcase their talent in more accessible settings, Evans said at the time.
Eventide Oyster Co. offers shellfish and classic New England fare while The Honey Paw serves regional American cuisine with an Asian sensibility and a focus on handmade noodles.