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9 Wisconsin restaurants, chefs named as James Beard Award semifinalists

Semifinalists range from a perennial favorite in Milwaukee to a 'modern French' bistro in a tiny town on the Mississippi

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Food from Pasture and Plenty in Madison, Wis. Photo courtesy of Sunny Frantz

Nine Wisconsin chefs or restaurants were named as semifinalists for the 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards on Wednesday.  

Since 1991, the James Beard Foundation has used the awards to highlight the nation’s best chefs and restaurants, as well as cookbooks and journalists who focus on the industry.

Coveted by professionals in the kitchen, the announcement of semifinalists each year also gives foodies a new list of venues to visit.

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“The awards recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive,” according to the organization’s website

Pasture and Plenty in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Sunny Frantz

Pasture and Plenty in Madison was named a semifinalist for Outstanding Hospitality this year. 

“We’re a local food business that connects the community to eating high quality local food in a variety of ways,” owner Christy McKenzie told WPR. “We’re really mission-driven.”  

The restaurant serves lunch during the week and brunch on Saturdays. It also has a meal kit service and hosts educational programming and cooking classes. 

“Our goal is to build local food economy to support local farms and local producers and create space for craft in the kitchen,” she said. 

McKenzie said she did not expect to be a semifinalist, and had not been contacted by the foundation before reporters started calling her on Wednesday. 

“I’ve been laughing and crying and…kind of high on adrenaline all day,” she said. 

Some of her programming efforts in recent years include the Youth Black Excellence Cooking Class & Meal Kit Program.

“For the last four years, we’ve created curriculum and programming that supports local youth in connecting with Black and other BIPOC leaders in local food and agriculture,” she said. 

Pasture and Plenty owner Christy McKenzie. Photo courtesy of Sunny Frantz

Located at University and Highland Avenues, the restaurant is in a building that was originally a Rennebohm Drug Store, McKenzie said. 

“The facade of the building is that kind of 1920s era, kind of art deco style and inside the building we tried to pay a lot of attention to bringing back, you know, some of that tradition, bringing back the beauty of the old architecture and adapting it to the current use,” she said. 

Finalists will be announced on April 3 and the winners will be named at an awards ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on June 10. 

The other Wisconsin semifinalists are: 

Outstanding Chef

  • Gregory León, Amilinda, Milwaukee

Emerging Chef

  • Bryce Stevenson, Miijim, La Pointe

Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker

  • Syovata Edari, CocoVaa Chocolatier, Madison

Best Chef: Midwest 

  • Ross Bachhuber and Samuel Ek, Odd Duck, Milwaukee
  • Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, Chef Shack Bay City, Bay City
  • Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite, EsterEv, Milwaukee
  • Kyle Knall, Birch, Milwaukee
  • Sean Pharr, Mint Mark, Madison
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