James Beard Award medal

The winner of the James Beard awards will receive a medal to mark their win. (Kent Miller / Courtesy of James Beard Foundation)

The James Beard Foundation will present its annual culinary awards tonight (June 10), and this time around New Orleans has three contenders vying for these high-profile accolades. Two names from neighboring Mississippi are also in the running.

Winners will be named during an awards ceremony in Chicago that begins at 5:30 p.m.

James Beard awards are closely watched across the hospitality industry. New Orleans has historically had many contenders each year, though for two years running, in 2022 and 2023, none ended up winning a chef or restaurant award. Before that, the last time no New Orleans name came away with one of these awards was 2012.

The James Beard Foundation said its roster of nominees was selected from thousands of chefs, restaurants and bars submitted by the public during an open call last fall.

Like last year, this slate of finalists reflects changes the foundation conducted during the pandemic. The foundation enacted an audit of its award program, focusing on diversity, equity and accessibility, and also added a code of ethics, an ethics committee and a tip line for people to report violations of that code.

New Orleans finalists by category are:

Best New Restaurant

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Effie Richardson and chef Serigne Mbaye developed Dakar NOLA as a modern Senegalese tasting restaurant in New Orleans. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Dakar NOLA, 3814 Magazine St., 504-493-9396

Uptown's modern Senegalese tasting menu restaurant started with pop-ups and communal dinners led by chef Serigne Mbaye before he and business partner Effie Richardson opened its Magazine Street home late in 2022.

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Seared redfish sits over a bed of lima beans and greens at  Dakar NOLA, a modern Senegalese restaurant in New Orleans. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The restaurant serves a menu that is a unique expression of Mbaye's roots in Senegal and his journey through contemporary American cuisine. Mbaye was a finalist for the James Beard Emerging Chef award in 2022 and 2023.

Outstanding Bar

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Having drinks in the front room at the Jewel of the South in the French Quarter.

Jewel of the South, 1026 St. Louis St., 504-265-8816

This modern tavern in the French Quarter, known for cocktails and modern British cooking, has become a magnet for national and international honors in the drinks realm. Co-owner and bar cocktail maestro Chris Hannah was previously at Arnaud's French 75 when that lounge won the James Beard award for Outstanding Bar in 2017.

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John Stubbs (left), Victoria Espinel and Chris Hannah are partners in Jewel of the South in the French Quarter of New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Jewel of the South is also as much a restaurant as a bar. Chef Phil Whitmarsh serves a highly contemporary menu informed in large part by modern British styles, with its emphasis on seasonal freshness and the reinvention of familiar flavors.

Best Chef South

This regional award covers Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico.

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Arvinder Vilkhu and his family started Saffron NOLA as a once-a-week restaurant for modern Indian cuisine before developing their full-fledged restaurant in New Orleans. (Advocate photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee)

Arvinder Vilkhu, of Saffron, 4128 Magazine St, 504-323-2626

With his family, Vilkhu started Saffron as a catering company and supper club and evolved it into an upscale restaurant. It is a multi-generational effort by the Vilkhu family that starts by rethinking the Indian restaurant template and adding New Orleans context for a highly personal lens on fusion.

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The Vilkhu family, (from left) Ashwin, Arvinder, Pardeep and Pranita, at their? restaurant Saffron NOLA on Magazine Street.?

Saffron opened in 2017 and was semifinalist for the group's Best New Restaurant award the following year.

More from Mississippi

Alex Perry - 1

Chef Alex Perry's Vestige restaurant in Ocean Springs is a finalist for a 2024 James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant.

Other finalists of local interest include two from Mississippi.

Vestige in Ocean Springs is a finalist for Outstanding Restaurant, a national award.

The restaurant was started in 2013 by Alex Perry, a native of Ocean Springs, and Kumi Omori, a native of Japan, and has evolved into a tasting menu format that blends those respective influences.

Hunter Evans of 贰濒惫颈别’蝉 in Jackson is a finalist for the Best Chef: South award. His restaurant, in the city’s Belhaven neighborhood, is dubbed an “all-day café,” from casual breakfast through its upscale dinner menu, with a focus on local food and Southern flavors.

See the full list of national and regional finalists here.

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Email Ian McNulty at imcnulty@theadvocate.com.