Food and Drink

Chefs from 229 Parks, Fire Island bakery snag prestigious James Beard award nominations

Two Alaska chefs were named semifinalists Wednesday for the James Beard Awards, one of the food industry's highest honors.

Laura Cole of 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern in Denali Park received her second nomination for "best chef: northwest," and Carlyle Watt of Anchorage's Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop received a nomination for "outstanding baker."

The James Beard Awards are often referred to as "the Oscars of food," and both titles the Alaskans are nominated for are competitive. Cole was nominated along with chefs from culinary hot spots like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. Watt's fellow nominees come from bakeries in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Watt is head baker at Fire Island and responsible for developing breads and other savory menu items. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in California, Watt began working at Fire Island in 2012.

He said in a phone interview Wednesday he was humbled to be in the company of such esteemed bakers. He said the bakery just received a copy of Zachary Golper's new cookbook from Bien Cuit in Brooklyn and he's been watching Zak Stern's "Zak the Baker" videos for years. Both chefs are nominated with Watt.

The owners of Fire Island trained under Michel Saus, also nominated for his San Francisco bakery, B.Patisserie.

"It's surreal," he said. "(The nomination) was not expected whatsoever, but totally appreciated."

[Two Alaska chefs score prestigious James Beard Award nominations for 2016]

Cole is nominated for the second consecutive year. The chef and owner of the Denali Park restaurant did not attend last year's ceremony, but said she was considering making the trip after another nomination.

"I'm so thrilled," she said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's so much fun and, as always, for Alaska to get an opportunity to kind of represent on a national stage is phenomenal."

The award winners will be announced at the James Beard Award Gala in Chicago on May 1.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.