Four Alabama Seafood Chefs Honored as 2020 James Beard Award Semifinalists

The James Beard Awards, known colloquially as the “Oscars of Food,” represent a crowning achievement for chefs, restaurateurs, and anyone working in the food service industry.

And if you’ve been keeping up with the nominations in recent years, you’ll know that Alabama is no stranger to this stage.

Of course, our friends Frank & Pardis Stitt winning the top prize in 2018—Outstanding Restaurant for Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham—was an unbelievable victory for our state. But there are many Alabamians who’ve been nominated (and won) over the past decade, and from all over the state.

This year’s semifinalists were announced on February 26, and the list features four Alabama chefs—two who are usual suspects, and two who are newcomers in their respective categories. And it should come as no surprise that they’re all big supporters of Alabama Gulf Seafood.

Learn more about each of this year’s Alabama semifinalists, then tune in March 25 to see who makes the cut as finalists.

Best New Restaurant – Automatic Seafood & Oysters (Birmingham)

Ever since Chef Adam Evans returned to Alabama and opened Automatic Seafood & Oysters, the critical acclaim has been seemingly, well, automatic. And with a menu full of fresh Gulf seafood that changes daily based on what’s fresh, it’s no surprise that the James Beard Foundation took notice. Automatic is up against 29 other new restaurants from across the U.S., but we have a feeling this won’t be the last nomination for Chef Evans…

Best Chef: South – Bill Briand, Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina (Orange Beach)

With two floors of exquisite service right on the water, Fisher’s has long been a Gulf Coast favorite. And Chef Bill Briand has long been a favorite of the James Beard Foundation himself. Chef Briand’s delectable cuisine for the fine-dining upper floor of the restaurant—which features plenty of fresh Gulf seafood, of course—earned him a fifth straight semifinalist slot for Best Chef: South. Here’s hoping the fifth time is a charm!

Best Chef: South – Timothy Hontzas, Johnny’s Restaurant (Homewood)

Johnny’s Restaurant has only been open eight years, and Chef Timothy Hontzas is already up to four straight years as a James Beard semifinalist. That’s a pretty good ratio, folks. This delightful Greek & Three is no longer a suburban secret—after all, it’s hard to stay quiet about fresh, locally sourced foods that are prepared from scratch. Chef Hontzas loves featuring Alabama Gulf Seafood on the menu whenever he can, and it pairs quite well with those Southern sides.

Best Chef: South – Duane Nutter, Southern National (Mobile)

We’re thrilled that 2020 brought Chef Nutter his first semifinalist recognition in the Best Chef: South category. But it’s not the first time Southern National has made the cut—in 2018, just five months after they opened their doors in Mobile, they were a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Naturally, being close to the Coast, Gulf seafood is a mainstay on their menu, so we’re predicting many more James Beard nominations in their future.