By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Mar 14, 2018 at 9:52 AM

This morning, the James Beard Foundation announced the nominees for its 2018 awards. 

Among the finalists are two Milwaukee chefs, Karen Bell and Justin Carlisle, each of whom has made significant contributions to the growing Milwaukee dining scene.

Up for Best Chef Midwest is Chef Bell of Bavette La Boucherie. This is a first for Bell, who broke ground with her combination cafe and butcher shop, a destination restaurant that showcases the brilliance of true nose-to-tail cooking.

Bell studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and then cut her culinary teeth in Chicago, where she worked as head line cook at Vong Restaurant and pastry cook at Charlie Trotter's. After working for three years at San Francisco's Farallon, she ventured to Madrid, where she eventually opened the California-inspired restaurant Memento.

Upon returning to the Milwaukee area, Bell remade the menu at Café on the Plaza to include more local, seasonal dishes before venturing out on her own to open Bavette.

For the fourth year running, Carlisle, the chef and owner of Ardent, has also made it to the next round for Best Chef Midwest.

Ardent, which opened in October 2013, has made an indelible mark on Milwaukee with its artfully prepared dishes, which simultaneously break new ground while paying homage to the simplicity and quality of Wisconsin ingredients. Its weekend business, Red Light Ramen, has also played a role in the restaurant’s success by luring an after-hours crowd to indulge in steaming bowls of ramen and creatively executed alcoholic slushies.

In 2014, Ardent was a contender for "Best New Restaurant in the United States" during the James Beard semifinals.

Other nominees for Best Chef Midwest include Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis, Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis and Ann Kim of Young Joni in Minneapolis. For the full list of winners, visit jamesbeard.org.

Restaurant and chef category winners will be announced at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 7 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.