Chefs Rico Torres (left) and Diego Galicia of Restaurant Mixtli and Kumo in 2018. Credit: Courtesy / Josh Huskin

Three San Antonio chefs have made the coveted James Beard Foundation’s 2018 list of Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists.

Chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres of Restaurant Mixtli and Steve McHugh of Cured are among 20 nominees in the category “Best Chef: Southwest” named as semifinalists for the prize, considered the U.S. food industry’s highest honor.

Galicia said he completely “lost it” when he got the news Thursday morning. This was the first year he and Torres were eligible to be nominated for their work at their progressive Mexican eatery, Mixtli, in Olmos Park.

“I just couldn’t believe it. To come from where we started and fast-forward four years, it’s just beyond our wildest dreams,” he said. “I can’t really understand it yet.”

Galicia attributes earning the recognition to giving it his all. “But that comes at a high cost,” he said. “And to see something like this happen, especially where we are … in the middle of nowhere, literally in a metal box that’s 40-by-10 [feet], with a staff of five, it’s crazy to see your hard work shine like that. But [James] Beard, there’s nothing bigger than that. It’s like winning an Oscar. It means the world.”

He also noted the growing number of Mexican food restaurants and chefs being nominated each year: “We are putting Mexican food back on its pedestal.”

Galicia and Torres are also serving as culinary ambassadors for the Bota?nica Music Festival, March 3, and curating a host of chefs and food trucks that will fill the “Texas Flavors” food and beverage experience at the inaugural festival. They are teaming with renowned San Antonio mixologist Jeret Pen?a who is leading the festival’s craft cocktail program as beverage ambassador.

This is McHugh’s third nomination for the award. He was a semifinalist in 2016 and a finalist in 2017.

Chef Steve McHugh poses for a photo near the entry way to Cured. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Steve McHugh of Cured has been nominated for a James Beard award three years in a row. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“Hopefully this is the year we bring it home,” he said. “I’m so excited and happy for my staff more than anything. They work their butts off trying to make sure the restaurant is always at 100 percent, always running on all cylinders.”

The recognition would be meaningful for San Antonio, McHugh said. “It would be great to put a national spotlight on such a great food city.”

Late last year, UNESCO recognized San Antonio’s unique culinary culture by designating it as a Creative City of Gastronomy.

Past James Beard nominees and semifinalists from San Antonio include Bruce Auden (Biga on the Banks), Andrew Weissman (Le Reve), Jason Dady (Jason Dady restaurants), Michael Sohocki (Restaurant Gwendolyn), David Gilbert (Sustenio), and The Esquire Tavern (Jeret Peña).

Finalists among the nominees for the 2018 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards will be named March 14 in Philadelphia, with awards presented at a ceremony in May.

James Beard Awards are given in categories including chefs and restaurants, books, journalism, broadcast media, and restaurant design and graphics, as well as for lifetime achievements.

James Beard was a cookbook author and teacher who championed American cuisine. The foundation that bears his name administers not only the food industry awards, but also educational programming, publications, and chef advocacy training. It maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.