Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen has won the James Beard award for "Best Chef: Mid Atlantic," one of 10 regional chef categories in the prestigious culinary awards competition.
On Tuesday, Gjerde enjoyed a day in Chicago with his family, including a visit to Millennium Park, before heading back to Baltimore.
"I was really happy about what it meant for Woodberry [Kitchen] and for Baltimore,” Gjerde said. "Baltimore has an underdog kind of status. I just felt it was really great validation for Woodberry and for Baltimore as a city."
In similar underdog fashion, the Cleveland-based chef Jonathon Sawyer won the Great Lakes category, beating out four chefs from Chicago. Gjerde said that Sawyer was one of the first chefs to congratulate him backstage at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
"It’s great for these cities like Cleveland and Baltimore,” Gjerde said. “It shows that exciting things are happening in cities that don’t get all the attention.”
The influential Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema said that Gjerde’s award was deserved.
"A lot of places label themselves farm-to-table, but Woodberry Kitchen walks the talk, and always has,” Sietsema, who serves on the awards committee, said in an interview. "In many ways, it's the perfect Mid-Atlantic restaurant. … Gjerde's food reminds me what a great pantry he has in his backyard. I always think of Woodberry Kitchen as the Chez Panisse of our region," referring to the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant famous for its local and organic ingredients.
This is the first James Beard award given to a Baltimore chef since the New York City-based James Beard Foundation began giving out its awards in 1991. In the Mid-Atlantic chef category, Baltimore chefs compete against peers at restaurants in Washington and Philadelphia.
Baltimore has come close before. It was the third straight year Gjerde had made it to the finalist round. Among Baltimore-based chefs, only Cindy Wolf of Charleston had made it to the top round more times. This year was her fourth time as a James Beard finalist.
Wolf, who grew up in Elkhart, Ind., said she had enjoyed being back in Chicago, a city she said was a major influence on her youthful dream of opening her own restaurant.
"It was nice to celebrate the nomination with my sister and her husband," Woff said. "I am proud to be a small business owner in Baltimore and hope that our town can find some hope and peace."
"I'm very happy for Spike," Wolf said. "I thought it was great to have two chefs from Baltimore and three from Philadelphia representing our region."
The awards were handed out Monday night at a gala ceremony at Lyric, the first time they have been presented outside of New York City.
The ceremony, which was hosted by the cookbook author and TV personality Alton Brown, awarded medallions to winners in 10 regional chef categories in addition to several national awards.
The "Best New Restaurant" award went to Batard in New York City. "Outstanding Chef" went to Michael Anthony of New York's Gramercy Tavern, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., won "Outstanding Restaurant."