Dine at a James Beard Award Honoree in Kentucky

They’re called “The Oscars of the Culinary World” – and for good reason. 
For restaurants and chefs, there’s no higher honor than snagging a coveted James Beard Award, being recognized as the best of the best by the nation’s top culinary experts and critics. And unlike most competitions, this is one where getting nominated alone really IS a very big deal. 
Few ever earn that designation, yet Kentucky’s chefs, restaurants and distillers have racked up more than 50 James Beard nominations (and two wins!) since 2002. 
As impressive as that is, here’s an even bigger scoop: You can “ooh and aah” over their award-winning creations at restaurants from Louisville to Lexington and beyond. Come taste for yourself why these Kentucky talents have snagged the culinary world’s top designation.
Six-time chef nominees? Best restaurant honorees? Let’s dig in!
Best Chefs
Considered by many to be the first lady of Kentucky’s growing food scene, chef Ouita Michel is a six-time semi-finalist for “Best Chef - Southeast.” You can taste her talents at several highly acclaimed restaurants in and around Lexington.

Enjoy po’boys, burgers, salads and breakfast at Windy Corner Market; settle into a cozy booth at the roadside deli-meets-diner Wallace Station in Versailles; dig into glorious baked treats featuring locally sourced ingredients at Midway Bakery; catch fresh fish, burgers and salads at Smithtown Seafood, with two locations in Lexington. Or hit up her newest openings: Zim’s Café, offering Kentucky favorites, and The Thirsty Fox, offering craft libations – both inside Lexington’s old courthouse.
If you want to kick things up a culinary notch, visit Michel’s largest restaurant Honeywood – featuring traditional and contemporary Kentucky dishes served in a stylish dining area with reclaimed-wood tabletops and towering windows – or her flagship Holly Hill Inn, offering elegant farm-to-table creations using the fresh ingredients local famers bring to her door each day.

Dig into her Ham Shank Hoppin’ John featuring Marksbury Farms pork with creamed field peas and Cajun popcorn rice; fresh shrimp and crispy fried catfish over Weisenberger Mill cheese grits and greens; a braised Kentucky Proud pot roast with carrots, cippolini onions, marble potatoes and carrot horseradish; or sorghum-brined Stone Cross Farm pork chops with slow-cooked greens and rosemary applesauce.
My, oh, my.
But Michel isn’t the only multiple Beard honoree cooking up delicious dishes in the Bluegrass State.
Louisville chef Edward Lee has six “Best Chef – Southeast” nominations as well and continues to wow diners at chic restaurants in what many consider one of the country’s best up-and-coming food cities. His six nominations all resulted from his culinary craftmanship at 610 Magnolia, offering a modern approach to the Southern table in the heart of Old Louisville. 
Don’t miss the wagyu Coulotte steak with potatoes, Point Reyes blue cheese, hakurei turnips and oyster mushrooms; fresh halibut over couscous with pickled spring onions, sour cherries, tahini yogurt and frisee; or his famous Bibimbop, a glorious bowl blending kimchi, spring vegetables, pickles, Gochujang, sesame and a sunny-side-up egg in a combination you won’t soon forget.
Can’t make up your mind? We don’t blame you! You can also enjoy a specially curated four- or six-course tasting menu that changes weekly to showcase the area’s freshest and responsibly grown and raised produce, meats and more.
Before leaving town, treat your taste buds to one of Lee’s other gems in the city by devouring craft burgers while sipping swanky cocktails at Whiskey Dry.
In the mood for something on the spicy side? Now with three locations in Louisville, Con Huevos is ready to dazzle with a variety of Mexican plates created by Beard-nominated chef Paco Garcia.
Many first-time guests go for his signature huevos rancheros (refried black bean, avocado, queso fresco, sunny-side-up eggs and optional ham, bacon or chorizo atop corn tortillas) but there are a host of other combinations featuring the flavors of mole, chipotle gravy, salsa verde and more. Wash them down with a fresh-brewed Cuban coffee, Mexican hot chocolate or one of a handful of creative brunch cocktails.
Chef Jonathon Lundy, who received a Beard nomination for his work at the now-closed Jonathon at Gratz Park in Lexington, is opening a new avant-garde Italian concept across from the historic courthouse in town offering a twist on traditional dishes. At the new ItalX, scratch-made pastas, reimagined small plates and popular desserts will pair with an extensive Italian wine list curated by certified sommelier T.J. Cox.
Best Restaurants
In a city known for culinary excellence, it’s no surprise Louisville restaurants have received lots of love from prestigious Beard Judges. If you want to really be wined and dined, step inside – and back in time – at The Seelbach Hotel, where former chefs Jim Gerhardt and Todd Richards have both received Beard “Best Chef - Southeast” nominations. Today, internationally renowned chef Paul Sant leads the kitchen at this quintessential grand luxury hotel dating back to 1905 that is also a multiple James Beard nominee in the “Outstanding Service” category.
Best Distillers
Kentucky knows – like REALLY knows – bourbon, so top-shelf distillers in the Bluegrass State often find themselves at the top of the list when it comes to Beard finalists.
Distillers from Old Rip Van Winkle (Julian Van Winkle), Buffalo Trace (Harlen Wheatley) and Willett (Drew Kulsveen) have all been recognized multiple times as being among the best in their field.

Plan a trip to Frankfort and Bardstown to visit these distinguished distilleries and many others to learn how bourbon is made and taste the unique nuances each talented craftsman brings to each batch. (Most offer tours and tastings, but call ahead to confirm.)
And those two big James Beard winners we teased earlier? One of them was Van Winkle, who was named THE “Outstanding Wine, Beer and Spirits Professional” in 2011 for his work at Old Rip Van Winkle, makers of the legendary bourbon true connoisseurs simply refer to as “Pappy.”
“America’s Classic” Restaurant
Kentucky’s other big winner was the historic Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, which was named an “America’s Classic” restaurant in 2015.

Designed to recognize the nation’s most beloved regional restaurants – known for their timeless appeal and excellent food that reflects the character of their communities – the “America’s Classic” honor is only bestowed on four or five restaurants across the U.S. each year.
In the same family for five generations, the beautiful and historic Beaumont is the epitome of traditional Southern flavors served in charming surroundings with gracious hospitality. Its circa-1845 dining room makes guests feel at home with traditional favorites like corn pudding, country ham and its famous “yellow leg” fried chicken!

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