Baltimore chef Cindy Wolf will have to wait at least another year before taking home a James Beard Award after Philadelphia chef Greg Vernick beat her for the title of “best chef: mid-Atlantic.”
The winners of the awards, considered the Oscars of the culinary industry, were announced at the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala, held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago Monday night.
In addition to Vernick, of Vernick Food & Drink, Wolf was up against another Philadelphia chef, Richard Landau of Vedge, along with Washington, D.C., chefs Amy Brandwein of Centrolina and Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint.
Wolf could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.
A partner in Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group, Wolf has been a frequent semifinalist for James Beard Awards during the last decade; in addition to this year’s nomination, she’s also been named a finalist in 2006, 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Wolf has described herself as the Susan Lucci of the James Beard Awards. Lucci, who starred on the show “All My Children,” was nominated for a Daytime Emmy 19 times before winning one.
“She has deserved this award for years and years now,” said Christopher Scanga, executive chef at Petit Louis Bistro, who previously worked with Wolf in her kitchen at Charleston. “She’s the most deserving person in the entire city at this point.”
Wolf was among 20 semifinalists named in the “best chef: mid-Atlantic” category in February, which was narrowed down to five finalists in March.
Tony Foreman, Wolf’s partner in the restaurant group, said Wolf’s consistency is what has landed her among the James Beard nominees year after year.
“Consistency of quality, consistency of development. She’s pretty relentless in her enthusiam for cooking and for making things better and better for our guests,” he said.
Wolf has been in the kitchen for 20 years at Charleston, her signature restaurant in Harbor East. Baltimore’s dining scene has evolved drastically since Charleston opened in 1997.
“What Chef Wolf has been doing her whole career has become in vogue, but it wasn’t when she started,” said Mike Evitts, vice president of communications for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.
He said there’s a reason she gets nominated every year.
“She’s constantly raising her game,” Evitts said. “She made people take note of Baltimore dining when not a whole lot was happening here.”
James Lewandowski, executive chef at Cinghiale, has worked for the group since 2001 and watched her evolve, especially through her travels, “going to France, going to Italy and just bringing a little bit back each time,” he said.
And her passion for food hasn’t faded.
“She is always just so excited about it,” Scanga said. “You see some chefs like that kind of get burnt out over time… but she is just as excited about her food and restaurants as she was probably the day that it opened.”
Although Wolf was the only Baltimore chef or restaurant that made the 2017 cut of finalists, other James Beard Award semifinalists this year included Charleston, Wolf’s restaurant, for outstanding wine program and Woodberry Kitchen for outstanding service.
Woodberry Kitchen chef and owner Spike Gjerde holds Baltimore’s only James Beard Award for “best chef: mid-Atlantic,” which he won two years ago. Gjerde, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment for this story.
Nearby in Milton, Del., Sam Calagione, CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, took home a James Beard Award for “outstanding wine, beer or spirits professional.” It was his seventh time being nominated.
Baltimore-based chef and author Allison Robicelli was also nominated as a personal essay finalist in the James Beard Media Awards for her Food52 piece, “In Sickness, in Health, in White Castle.” The media award winners were unveiled April 25 in New York.