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Cooked to Perfection: Nine NC Chefs Among James Beard Semi-Finalists

James Beard Award is similar to the Academy Awards, but for the best chefs and bakers in America.

  From bakeries and dives to fine dining and drive-ins, North Carolina restaurants consistently top foodies' "best-of" lists.  So it was no surprise to many in the Tar Heel culinary scene when the state's chefs and bakers were on the James Beard Foundation's semifinalist list. 

The Foundation announced the the semifinalists Wednesday at a news conference in Chicago. Nine North Carolinians made the list in two categories - Best Chef: Southeast and Outstanding Baker.

The Outstanding Baker category is a new contest this year. It was created to distinguish restaurant pastry chefs from those who own their own businesses. The Outstanding Baker award is a national award, unlike Best Chef Southeast. North Carolina had two nominees among the list of 25 semifinalists. 

The North Carolina semifinalists for Outstanding Chef were Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Bakery in Durham and Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery in Cary.

The seven other chefs named semifinalists in the Best Chef Southeast category are: Katie Button of Cúratein Asheville, NC; John Fleer of Rhubarbin Asheville, NC; Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, NC; Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham, NC; Meherwan Irani of Chai Paniin Asheville, NC; Matthew Kelly of Mateoin Durham, NC and Aaron Vandemark of Panciutoin Hillsborough, NC.

 Several of this year's semifinalists were interviewed on WUNC and shared some of their favorite recipes:

There are typically 20 to 25 semifinalists named in each category, but the list will be whittled down to five finalists on March 24th. The 2015 James Beard Awards gala will be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 4th.

Hady Mawajdeh is a native Texan, born and raised in San Antonio. He listened to Fresh Air growing up and fell in love with public radio. He earned his B.A. in Mass Communication at Texas State University and specialized in electronic media. He worked at NPR affiliate stations KUT and KUTX in Austin, Texas as an intern, producer, social media coordinator, and a late-night deejay.
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