Christian Geideman, owner-chef of Ippuku in downtown Berkeley, is a first-time James Beard Award semifinalist. Photo: Nicole Rosario

The first round of nominees for the 27th annual James Beard restaurant and chef awards, known by some as the “Oscars of the food scene,” were announced this morning, and East Bay chefs had a strong showing.

Up for a national Outstanding Chef award is Daniel Patterson, for his work at LocoL in Los Angeles and Oakland. The healthy(ish) fast food restaurant chain aims to disrupt the current idea of fast food restaurants, with fair pay for employees, food made with real ingredients and locations in underserved neighborhoods. The Bay Area’s first LocoL opened in May 2016 at 2214 Broadway in what was most recently one half of Patterson’s Plum Bar + Restaurant. Its first location is in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Lance Winters is a semifinalist once again for his crafty distilling at St. George Spirits in Alameda. He was a semifinalist for the same award last year, and follows in the footsteps of St. George’s founder Jörg Rupf, who received four James Beard nominations. St. George is known for making a range of tasty gins, single-malt whiskey and the first legal American absinthe since the 1912 ban.

In the Best Chef, West category, two newcomers stand out: Christian Geideman, the chef-owner of Berkeley’s Ippuku, and Preeti Mistry, of Oakland’s Juhu Beach Club.

Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Ippuku, the bustling, 7-year-old izakaya on Center Street, has been recognized by the Michelin guide and local critics alike, but had yet to get the attention of the Beard awards. Geideman is a Berkeley High School alum who worked in izakayas in Japan and Santa Fe, New Mexico before returning to the Bay after a visit to the Greek Theater in 2007 and realizing how much he loved the area.

Mistry opened Juhu Beach Club in 2013 and has garnered much praise for her colorful, fun approach to Indian street food. She’s been an unapologetic supporter of fair wages and inclusive hiring, and is not one to back away from a conversation about race and gender in the kitchen. Mistry is also working on her second restaurant, Navi Kitchen, a more casual, counter-service fusion restaurant set to open this year in Emeryville.

Oakland’s James Syhabout is also a semifinalist for a Best Chef, West award for San Francisco’s Hawker Fare. The original Oakland location will close after service on Saturday.

The semifinalists were selected from a list of over 24,000 online entries for the awards, which aim to “recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and further the Foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone,” according to a press release from the James Beard Foundation.

The final list of award nominees will be announced March 15. The James Beard media award winners will be announced at a ceremony April 25 in New York City, and the restaurant and chef award ceremony will be held May 1 in Chicago.

Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...