By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 05, 2014 at 6:47 PM

Justin Aprahamian, owner and executive chef of Sanford, was named best chef in the Midwest at the annual James Beard Awards this evening in New York.

With his usual understated charm, Aprahamian pronounced the honor "surreal" and gave thanks to Sandy and Angie D'Amato, his wife Sarah, and the staff at the restaurant, among others.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, Aprahamian began his career working in his uncle's catering business. After graduating from high school, he worked for Steven Wade’s Café in New Berlin while earning a degree from Waukesha County Technical College.

According to Aprahamian, it had always been his dream to work under Chef Sanford D’Amato at Sanford Restaurant, 1547 N. Jackson St. As the story goes, after being encouraged by industry colleagues, he knocked on the back door of Sanford and asked for a job. Turns out, his timing was perfect. Aprahamian was offered work in May 2002 and became sous chef when he was just 21 years old.

In December 2012, D’Amato turned the restaurant over to Aprahamian, who now runs the restaurant with his wife, Sarah.

The awards, often called the Oscars of the hospitality industry, took place at Lincoln Center in New York, before a room full of chefs, other industry professionals and members of the media from across the country.

It was the fourth year in a row that Aprahamian was nominated for a James Beard Award. This year, he bested five other chefs in the category of Best Chef Midwest, including Paul Berglund of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, Gerard Craft of Niche in Missouri, Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart in Minneapolis, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Café in St. Louis, and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, Minn.

Other Wisconsin chefs who have won the Beard award include Tory Miller of L’Etoile, Sandy D'Amato of Sanford and Adam Siegel of Lake Park Bistro.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.