Known as the Oscars of food and the culinary industry’s pinnacle of success, the James Beard Award has landed in the Triangle three times, traveling the area’s rich spectrum of cuisine from Lowcountry Southern to Asian fusion. Awards have been meted out to individual chefs in addition to restaurants.
From features in bon appétit magazine to appearances on Food Network, Ashley Christensen has made her mark as the culinary queen of Raleigh. Chef Christensen’s fleet of downtown restaurants has elevated the dining scene of the Oak City to unseen heights. The multiple James Beard Award-nominee broke into the winner’s circle in 2014 for her work at her flagship restaurant, Poole’s Diner.
Resurrecting the bones of a former luncheonette and pie shop, Poole’s Diner continues the building’s tradition of doling out comfort food, enhanced by Christensen’s keen eye for quality ingredients and creative techniques. The most beloved dish at Poole’s is the macaroni au gratin, otherwise known as mac and cheese. Deceptively simple and absolutely satisfying, the dish features a cracklin' cheesy crust topping, tender noodles and rich, gooey cheese.
Christensen’s success doesn’t stop at Poole’s Diner. She also picked up a James Beard Award Best Chef of the Southeast nomination for her open fire restaurant, Death & Taxes. Tempting menus make long lines worth the wait at her revered burger joint Chuck’s, and the fried chicken at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey makes it a must-experience dining stop in Raleigh.
In 201, Andrea Reusing became the first Triangle chef to bring home a James Beard Award for her work at Lantern in Chapel Hill, where she claims dual titles of chef and owner. Mending seasonal North Carolina ingredients to Asian cuisine, Reusing has set a precedent in culinary excellence for other chefs to follow.
Curating dishes from Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines, Reusing casts a wide net to create her menu. While the recipes are inspired from Southeast Asia, the dishes Reusing cooks are 100 percent North Carolinian. Leveraging the area’s abundance of produce and seafood, she presents dishes like Cha Ca Va Long, which features fresh North Carolina fish, to showcase her passion for the Tar Heel State’s bounty.
Reusing has expanded her reach to neighboring Durham where she has taken over the kitchen at boutique hotel, The Durham, earning her another round of critical acclaim.
Though the James Beard Foundation is known to award contemporary restaurants with a flair for the cutting edge, it also respects timeless and iconic community eateries—like Crook’s Corner, which took a James Beard America's Classics Award back to Chapel Hill in 2011.
Named to honor the building’s first tenant back in the 1940s, Rachel Crook, the space has served as a fish market, taxi stand, pool hall and barbecue restaurant until founding chefs Bill Neal and Gene Hamer took it over in 1982 and turned it into the Southern delicacies hot spot it is today. Current chef Bill Smith sticks to classics like hoppin’ john, spicy collard greens and shrimp and grits that have all become the hallmarks of Crook’s Corner.
Adorned with local art and North Carolina’s trademark hospitality and laid-back attitude, Crook’s Corner is a true jewel in Chapel Hill.
The Triangle is an annual player on the James Beard Awards semifinalist list.
Multiple-time semifinalists such as Phoebe Lawless of Durham’s Scratch Baking and Lionel Vatinet of Cary’s La Farm Bakery are fixtures on the Best Baker award while names like Raleigh’s Cheetie Kumar of Garland and Durham’s Matt Kelly of Mateo have recently appeared on the "Best Chef: Southeast" list. With a bolstering catalog of talented chefs, it’s just a matter of time before another Triangle chef earns the coveted medal.