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One of Justin Aprahamian's sumptuous-looking creations.
One of Justin Aprahamian's sumptuous-looking creations.

Beard Awards: Aprahamian advances, Watts wins

This afternoon the James Beard Foundation announced the final nominees for its 2011 awards. Sanford's Justin Aprahamian has made it to the next round.

Aprahamian, who was nominated for the second straight year and this year in two categories -- Rising Star Chef of the Year and Best Chef: Midwest -- has advanced in the latter category. We'll find out whether or not he wins when the final victors are announced on May 9 at Lincoln Center in New York.

"It is definitely satisfying," Aprahamian says of getting noticed by the prestigious Beard Foundation.

"It's not the point of what we do, but it's most certainly accepted. It's quite the group of people to have your name mentioned with. As for my response last year to the first nomination, Sandy told me over dinner, and all I could say was "Are you f-ing kidding me?!" It was a strange feeling, like somebody is paying attention, and perhaps even enjoyed what we were doing."

The other finalists in the category are Tory Miller of Madison's L'Etoile, Isaac Becker of Minneapolis' 112 Eatery, Colby Garrelts, of Bluestern in Kansas City, Mo., and Lenny Russo of Heartland in St. Paul, Minn.

Hinterland's Dan Van Rite was also a semi-finalist in the Best Chef: Midwest category but did not make it through.

Meanwhile, Watts Tea Shop is among the winners of Beard's Our America’s Classics Award -- for restaurants more than a decade old.

Other winners include Chef Vola’s in Atlantic City, N.J., Crook's Corner, Chapel Hill, N.C., Noriega Restaurant & Hotel in Bakersfield, Calif., and New York's Le Veau d’Or.

We'll have a full interview with Aprahamian in coming days. Stay tuned.


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