NC just took home 3 James Beard Awards. Here’s what you should know about the restaurants

North Carolina’s restaurant industry collected three James Beard Awards Monday night, including Outstanding Restaurant in the country.

The prestigious awards, referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world, were presented in Chicago. They recognize chefs, restaurants, bar programs and hospitality leaders across the United States.

For many restaurants, they can represent a major boost in publicity and attention. And while the awards have historically gone to restaurants and chefs in major cities, North Carolina has been part of the conversation.

North Carolina chefs dominated the nominations for Best Chef: Southeast this year. Moore was joined by Cheetie Kumar of Garland in Raleigh; Charlotte’s Greg Collier of Leah & Louise and Button of Curate. Alley Twent Six in Durham was a finalist for Outstanding Bar program.

“There’s a burst of culinary talent here,” said Ricky Moore, chef and owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham. He took home the award for Best Chef: Southeast.

“People who are really into it, on fire about it. There are people who really want to be true cooks and talk about the cuisine in our region. And because of that we’re in the conversation today with other destinations in the country. Charleston, New York, San Francisco, Chicago.”

Here’s who took home awards from North Carolina.

Chai Pani, Asheville

Asheville’s Chai Pani won for Outstanding Restaurant, the top James Beard Award for restaurants. Owned by Meherwan Irani, Chai Pani has been one of downtown Asheville’s signature restaurants for more than a decade, building a menu around Indian Street Food.

Cúrate, Asheville

One of North Carolina’s top restaurants, Cúrate in Asheville won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Hospitality, which recognizes the dining experience and front-of-house workers. Curate is owned by married couple Katie Button and Felix Meana and in 2019 was named one of Food & Wine’s 13 most important restaurants of the decade.

Button has been a frequent James Beard nominee. She was a finalist in the Southeast chef category this year as well as in 2018, 2019 and 2020. In 2014, she was a nominee for Rising Star Chef of the Year (now known as Emerging Chef.) The restaurants were not given out in 2020 and 2021.

Katie Button of Asheville’s Nightbell.
Katie Button of Asheville’s Nightbell.

Ricky Moore, Saltbox Seafood Joint

Moore won his first James Beard Award Monday for Best Chef: Southeast for Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham. Moore was previously a semifinalist for the award in 2020.

He’s a Culinary Institute of America grad and Army veteran, but after years in fine dining, he built Saltbox as an ode to the Eastern North Carolina seafood joints he knew growing up. The fish is flash fried, highly seasoned and some of the freshest diners will find in any restaurant, coming in daily from the coast.

“I want to shout out North Carolina Fisher folk,” Moore said Monday night in his acceptance speech.

Ricky Moore owns Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham and won the James Beard Award in 2022 for Best Chef: Southeast.
Ricky Moore owns Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham and won the James Beard Award in 2022 for Best Chef: Southeast.

North Carolina James Beard Award winners

The restaurants and chefs join a small but illustrious group of restaurateurs who have won the culinary awards. Here’s who has won in previous years.

Ashley Christensen of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner, who won Outstanding Chef in the country in 2019 and Best Chef: Southeast in 2014

Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, who won Best Chef: Southeast in 2011

Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham won Outstanding Pastry Chef in the country in 2003.

Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill, who won Best Chef: Southeast in 2000.