4 Alaskans nominated for prestigious James Beard Awards

Four Alaskan chefs have been nominated for the prestigious James Beard awards
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 7:09 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskans are once again making their presence known on the national culinary scene, with three chefs and one restaurateur receiving James Beard Foundation Award nominations last week.

“Alaska in general is a lot more cosmopolitan from the aspect of we like quality,” said Laile Fairbairn, Managing Member for Snow City Cafe, Spenard Roadhouse, South Restaurant and Coffee House and Crush Bistro. “And we’ve seen other places and we’ve chosen to live here because of how beautiful it is.”

For Renee Trafton, chef and owner of Beak Restaurant in Sitka, the nomination for Best Chef was a career goal.

“Feels kind of unreal. But I’m, like, extremely happy,” Trafton said.

Trafton says the quality of the ingredients play a part.

“The fish here is the best in the world,” Trafton said. “I’m really passionate about cooking fish and I over the years, I’ve been in business since 2017, I’ve like cultivated relationships with fishermen. And that’s really fantastic. Because I can get, like the highest quality fish with not too much difficulty.”

For the second year in a row, Chef Nathan Bentley and Altura Bistro in Anchorage have been nominated in the Best Chef category as well.

“It feels amazing. It really does,” Bentley said. “Especially two years in a row. It just, it just shows that we really, really take our craft seriously here and we really appreciate bringing in high-quality ingredients, making everything from scratch and doing it justice.”

Born and raised in Anchorage, Bentley went through the UAA culinary program to get his start.

“We always feel being a local, you know, small town person from Alaska, we kind of seem like we get overlooked sometimes — and it just shows that we don’t,” Bentley said.

Beau Schooler, chef and co-owner of In Bocca al Lupo in Juneau, says although his name is on the award, it’s a team effort.

“We’ve got a really good staff here and we got a really good front of house that makes people feel welcome whenever they walk in the door,” said Schooler. “So I’d say just a good team effort we have here really kind of leads to any kind of recognition you get.”

When Fairbairn, nominated for outstanding restaurateur, was putting together the business plan for Snow City Cafe 25 years ago, she felt Anchorage was under-served in the restaurant market — but not any more.

”We just have a wide diversity of restaurants featuring food from all over the world, which makes sense considering how diverse our population is,” said Fairbairn. “So there’s a lot of great food going on. And not just at places like ours, but all over town, little mom and pop places all over and I’m really impressed.”

The nominees will find out at the end of March 2023 if they move on to the next stage.