In an announcement delayed by a month due to the coronavirus pandemic, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) named San Antonio Chef Steve McHugh one of the five best chefs in Texas during it’s Best Chef Awards announcement on Monday.

This is the fourth time McHugh of Cured has been named a finalist for Best Chef, but the first time in the newly created Texas category. Previously, Texas chefs were nominated in the Southwest chefs category that also included Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

McHugh said the new category is a testament to the talent and culinary creativity in Texas, especially during a time of uncertainty.

“This bright spot, particularly amongst such uncertainty, is an important reminder of the unity and hope that food can inspire – now, more than ever,” he said in a statement. “It is a bittersweet moment as Sylvia and I sit together, alone, unable to thank our full team in-person for their dedication and contribution to this award. It has been a goal that we’ve worked towards since first opening our doors and one we continue to strive towards together, even more so during this critical time for our country.”

In February, two other local chefs were nominated among the 20 semifinalists for Best Chef Texas: Alex Paredes of Carnitas Lonja and Esaul Ramos of 2M Smokehouse.

“It was a great surprise just getting nominated for the award,” Paredes said via text message Monday after the announcement. “We work really hard to maintain a high level of hospitality at the restaurant showing people that it doesn’t has to be ‘white table cloth’ to be a good experience.”

“I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to be a finalist,” he added. “I’ve been working non-stop for the last few years to be at the level as the best chef in the nation. I’m happy I know it will come someday.”

Ramos could not be reached for comment.

The JBF awards are known as the Oscars of food and cooking, and the organization is marking its 30th year in celebrating chefs and restaurants during an unprecedented time for the food and beverage industry.

Prior to a reading of the finalist names via Twitter, JBF tweeted that some of the restaurants it would be announcing as finalists are temporarily closed, operating take-out only, or participating in meal relief programs, and some have already said that they will permanently close.

The dining rooms of Cured, Carnitas Lonja, and 2M Smokehouse are not open, and the restaurants are currently serving curbside/takeout orders.

Other chefs named as finalists for Best Chef Texas include Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye, Austin; Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, Austin; Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri, Houston, and Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles, Houston.

McHugh has not won the three previous times he has been named a finalist.

This year, JBF has already canceled its in-person annual media awards and postponed other events to instead focus on the JBF Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. The “Open For Good” campaign has so far contributed more than $4 million to independent, locally-owned restaurants around the country.

The restaurant and chef awards, originally planned for May, are slated to be announced via live Twitter stream on Sept. 25. A decision regarding an in-person event has not been made.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.