Finalists for the James Beard Foundation's culinary awards were announced Tuesday morning in New York. Central Florida was again brushed over.

Nominees for the South region, which includes Florida, are Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans; Jose Enrique, Jose Enrique, San Juan, PR; Vishwesh Bhatt, Snackbar, Oxford, MS; Slade Rushing, Brennan's, New Orleans; and Alon Shaya, Domenica, New Orleans.

The list of 20 semifinalists had included Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert's; Kathleen Blake, The Rusty Spoon; Hari Pulapaka, Cress; and James and Julie Petrakis, The Ravenous Pig. All have been previous semifinalists, Hunnel the most frequently. No Central Florida chefs have ever advanced to the finals. (Norman Van Aken and Melissa Kelly, who both have restaurants in Orlando, won best chef awards for restaurants outside the area.)

Tampa's Bern's Steakhouse is nominated for an Outstanding Wine Program award.

For the first time in the awards' 25 year history, the winners will be announced outside of New York, at a black-tie ceremony at Chicago's Lyric Opera, Monday, May 4.

The full list of finalists can be viewed at JamesBeard.org. (The list will publish after the announcement ceremony, which is still going on at this moment.)


Shaw white zinThe news — or partial news, as is often the case with misinformation — that California wines are loaded with arsenic has sent people into a panic. I hope you didn't do anything rash like pour all your Napa and Sonoma County wines down the drain. Well, I do hope you poured your Cook's spumante out, if you had any.

In case you missed the report, a lawsuit was filed last week against several winemakers that claims they are selling wines with high levels of arsenic. Specifically, 83 bottles of wine from 28 California wineries that are sold under 31 brand levels were cited. All of them might conservatively be referred to as cheap wine. Among them, certain wines from Almaden, Sutter Home and Charles Shaw, which is sold at Trader Joe's and commonly referred to as 'Two Buck Chuck" by fans and detractors alike. (Actually, the wine sells for closer to four bucks these days, but never mind that.) And not all the wines produced from those winemakers was named as having dangerous levels of arsenic. For example, only the Charles Shaw white zinfandel was cited. (You can see the full list in this article from AP.)

According to a Wine-Searcher article titled Scaremongers Spark Fear Over Arsenic in Wine, which highlights the expected distain of the winemaking community, the lawsuit has little chance of succeeding because there are no standards in place regarding accepted levels of arsenic. California does have a limit of arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion. The suit claims that an independent laboratory found up to 50 parts per billion in some of the named wines. The article claims that that is one fourth as much as what is permitted in Europe.

The U.S. government does have standards for arsenic in such things as apple and grape juice, and arsenic levels in rice has been in the news recently, as well. (Arsenic, besides being a poison in high levels, is a known carcinogen.)

And about that independent laboratory. It was Denver based BeverageGrades, owned by Kevin Hicks, who was not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. However, the company said in a press release on Thursday, the day the suit was filed, that it believes that alcoholic beverages should undergo a screening process and be properly certified for purity. That happens to be what BeverageGrades does. So, a dog in the fight, if you will.

It's always a good idea to buy wine from a trusted winemaker through a reliable retailer. But right now, there probably isn't a reason to dump the cheap stuff down the drain. Unless it's that Cook's spumante. Seriously, don't drink that crap.


If you've purchased anything at a food truck or even a small startup eatery, you've probably faced this scenario. You offer your credit card for payment, the worker swipes the card through a little dongle attached to an iPad, then swings the device around for your signature and approval. And there, for your convenience, are automated tipping suggestions. Really, really nice tips for the server. You can choose one of those suggestions, or take the time -- under full scrutiny of the worker standing in front of you and possibly other customers standing behind -- to find and select the "enter different amount" button and then calculate the tip in your head.

As this article from the New York Times finds, most of us choose the easy, and ultimately more costly, way out. 

The iPad devices have made life easier for customer and staff, and have allowed businesses to accept credit cards without the costly arrangements with processing companies. But sometimes a little automation is too much.

What do you do in these situations?


golden knife ext

At 7:30 on a Thursday evening, with a Broadway series show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts a couple of blocks away nearing curtain time, pre-theater diners should have been pouring out of the Golden Knife.

But instead my guests and I encountered an eerily empty space. Was it so new that no one had found it yet? Or had others come before and found the experience to be as disappointing as we soon would?


Master Chef Contest

Had a delightful luncheon at Raglan Road the other day, a kickoff to its big Mighty Festival celebration, which concludes today with what I'm sure will be a huge party. I wonder if they knew it would coincide with St. Patrick's Day when they scheduled it? Besides the terrific food and wine, the folks at Raglan Road served up the details for a Master Chef Competition to celebrate the restaurant's 10th anniversary, with semifinalists traveling to Ireland to cook with chef Kevin Dundon at his five-star Dunbrody House hotel and cooking school. See below for said details.