By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 02, 2016 at 8:17 PM

Tonight, at the annual James Beard Awards in Chicago, Paul Berglund of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis was named best chef in the Midwest.

Some might consider this a loss for Milwaukee. After all, among the finalists for the award were Milwaukee's own Justin Carlisle, chef and owner of Ardent (a restaurant which was named semifinalist for the Nation's Best New Restaurant Award 2014 after being open only four months).

Disappointed, sure. But, Milwaukeeans needn't be distraught.

A win for Milwaukee

Although Carlisle didn't bring home the prize (this year), his contributions to our culinary scene are by no means lessened. In fact, his second and latest nomination – which follows closely on the heels of Justin Aprahamian's 2014 win – reflects an increasing respect for the chefs and dining in both Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

It’s also a tribute to Carlisle's efforts – not only in the kitchen, but also in the public eye – as he works to advance the reputation of the city's fine dining scene. Most significantly, he has instigated collaborations with other nationally and internationally renowned chefs, who travel to Milwaukee to both share their knowledge and gain a first-hand look at the culinary innovation happening here.

These collaborative experiences offer Milwaukee diners an opportunity to both get to know Carlisle’s work more intimately, as well as to experience one-of-a-kind dining with chefs who rarely set foot in our city. In fact, forthcoming events include collaborations with Matthias Merges of Yusho in Chicago and James Knappett and Sandia Chang of Kitchen Table and Bubbledogs in London.

As Carlisle posted on Facebook earlier today: "Today I get to represent my home and one of the greatest cities – Milwaukee and my home state Wisconsin – at the James Beard Awards. Couldn't be more honored and happy to be able to promote and have people see how wonderful it is. No matter what happens tonight, we won and my Ardent family won. Thank you to everyone for the support. Here is to Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Now let's celebrate!"

Our James Beard history

Milwaukee has played a significant role in the storied history of the James Beard Awards, the first of which were granted in 1991.

Sanford D’Amato, chef and owner of Sanford, blazed new territory when he broke into the New York scene and make a name for himself in New York, a city largely ruled by French-born chefs in the 1970s. Years later, after moving back to Milwaukee, he also made his mark as the first chef in Wisconsin to win the prestigious James Beard Award, which he did in 1996, earning the title of Best Chef in the Midwest.

And D’Amato is not alone. Milwaukee chef Adam Siegel of the Bartolotta Restaurants has also won the Beard award. Bartolotta’s co-owner Paul Bartolotta, is also a James Beard Award winner and the only chef in the U.S. to have won the award in two separate regions, Best Midwest Chef in 1994 and Best Chef Southwest in 2009.

Justin Aprahamian, Milwaukee’s most recent Best Chef Midwest Award winner, was nominated four times before achieving his win in 2014. In 2015, he was among the chefs who cooked for the awards.

And the award winners are among the ranks of even more chefs who have been nominated for semi-finals over the years. That list includes names like David Swanson of Braise, Thomas Hauck of c.1880, Peggy Magister of Crazy Water, Jason Gorman of Dream Dance Steak (now Milwaukee Art Museum), Dan Van Rite of Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub (and now DanDan) and Jan Kelly of Meritage.

In addition to chef-based awards, restaurants like Watts Tea Shop and Three Brothers have brought home the prize for American Classics and Bryant's Cocktail Lounge was a 2013 semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program.

With all of this in mind, I propose a toast to this year's awards, and a big wish for our next win in 2017!

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.