Mutsuko Soma, owner and chef at Kamonegi in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, is competing for the prestigious James Beard award.
SEATTLE – After a two-year hiatus, the James Beard Awards returned Monday night with one of the most diverse nominations in the organization’s more than 30-year history.
The organization has taken time to reflect on its history and make major changes to its voting policies and procedures. The James Beard Foundation declined an interview, but said in an emailed statement:
“The pandemic has presented challenges that no organization could have foreseen or prepared for, and during that time our industry has suffered greatly – especially independent restaurants. These challenges shed light on weaknesses in our system.”
In 2020, the organization conducted an external review to become more inclusive and fair. As a result, changes were made to their voting process including diversifying voting bodies, adding term limits, and expanding evaluation categories. The organization says these changes are part of an iterative and ongoing process.
With those changes, chefs in Seattle are getting top marks.
“I want to be recognized for my cooking, not because I am black,” says Mutsuko Soma, owner and chef at Kamonegi in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.
Soma is a nominee, also known as a finalist, for Best Chef of the Northwest and Pacific.
Still, Soma said she appreciates James Beard’s recognition of small women-owned restaurants and POCs.
“They have never gotten used to their unique 100% handmade soba noodles,” said Soma, who opened Kamonegi about five years ago.
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It’s a career-defining award for any chef, but for the chef in Seattle, it has the potential to be historic. The win would be the first for any Asian woman in the category in at least a decade.
Soma learned how to make buckwheat noodles after moving to the United States at the age of 18 and remembered her grandmother’s soba noodles while growing up in Japan. After learning how to make them for herself and her family, she realized the recipe was special and decided to open a business.
Soma said: “Cultural research, culture sharing, understanding cultures is important. I never thought of culture and food in this way.”
Before being nominated, reservation time at Kamonegi will take several days. When Soma reached the semi-finals it lasted three weeks. Now, as a finalist, winning a reservation comes with a waiting time of up to six weeks.
“Hopefully this award will bring people to try something new because a lot of people may have never eaten fresh soba,” said Soma, who encourages people to try new foods in Seattle. like this before”.
Other Seattle chefs who made it to the final round were Joule’s Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi for the Outstanding Chef award. Walrus and the Carpenter is running for Featured Restaurants.
Soma will attend the awards ceremony Monday night in Chicago. She said her next step is to write a cookbook if she wins.
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https://www.king5.com/article/life/food/james-beard-2022-nominees-diverse-spotlighting-seattle-chefs/281-52472419-0cc8-4031-bcbb-54dd8a74fc17 3 Seattle chefs finalists for 2022 James Beard awards