Food and Drink

Three Alaska chefs, restaurateur nominated for James Beard awards

Three Alaska chefs and one restaurant owner have been nominated for James Beard Awards, considered a top honor in the food world.

Laile Fairbairn of Locally Grown Restaurants was named as a semifinalist for restaurateur of the year for the outstanding restaurateur award in a field that includes other nominees from across the United States.

Fairbairn is the longtime co-owner of popular Anchorage restaurants Snow City Cafe, South Restaurant + Coffeehouse and Spenard Roadhouse. She couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.

Nathan Bentley of Anchorage’s Altura Bistro was nominated in the best chef of the Pacific Northwest region category.

“We’re so honored,” said Bentley, who was also a semi-finalist last year. “It’s motivating.”

Beau Schooler of In Bocca Al Lupo in Juneau, previously nominated several times, and Rene Trafton of Sitka restaurant Beak were nominated in the same category.

Trafton learned about her place on the James Beard nomination list from a restaurant supply store representative. She’d been emailing him about purchasing a new commercial refrigerator, and he congratulated her, she said.


It was still a little surreal: On Wednesday afternoon, the first-time nominee was busy in the kitchen, heating salmon chowder for dinner and pickling carrots. It was the first time, to her knowledge, that a Sitka restaurant had been nominated.

“I guess it’s real!” she said.

Trafton moved to Sitka a decade ago after working in Michelin-starred restaurant in New York. She opened Beak, which shares a historic building with the local public radio station, in 2017.

The food is focused on Sitka’s fresh seafood and Alaska-sourced ingredients and uses a no-tipping model in which higher menu prices allow Trafton to pay her employees what she says is a more livable wage than many restaurants.

One of Trafton’s favorite dishes on the Beak menu is rockfish — an underrated fish Alaskans appreciate, she thinks — topped with her version of an “everything” bagel seasoning and topped with a briny pickled vegetable salad featuring bull kelp.

The James Beard winners will be announced March 29.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at