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Food & Drink

Ekiben, Charleston, Foraged are Baltimore contenders for James Beard Awards, known as Oscars of restaurant industry

Shelves with bottles of wine line the walls of one of the dining areas at Charleston Restaurant in Harbor East, which has been nominated as a semifinalist in the Outstanding Hospitality category of the James Beard Awards.

This year’s group of James Beard Awards semifinalists is here, and Baltimore has three contenders on the list.

Charleston, Harbor East’s French-meets-Southern fine dining spot from the Foreman Wolf restaurant group, is in the running for an award in the Outstanding Hospitality category. Two local chefs, Chris Amendola of Foraged, and Steve Chu of Ekiben, are semifinalists for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.

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Chris Amendola, owner and chef of Foraged, is a James Beard Awards semifinalist.

Winners of the annual awards, considered to be the dining industry’s Oscars, are scheduled to be announced June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Finalists will be announced March 29.

In an emailed statement, Charleston co-owner and wine director Tony Foreman said Foreman Wolf is “grateful to be nominated, especially in such an important category.” Hospitality, he said, “is a restaurant’s essential function — to make guests feel welcome and cared for. That is our leading goal, from Chef through service team, and this recognition speaks to our team’s success in fulfilling that.”

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Charleston’s executive chef Cindy Wolf, also a co-owner of the restaurant, said she’s “so proud of all of our staff, front to back, that put everything they have, every day, into making our guests’ experience as warm, welcome and excellent as it can be. "

Wolf, a perennial favorite of the James Beard Award judges, was not nominated as an individual chef on this year’s list. She has been named a semifinalist 13 times and a finalist nine times — so much so that she has taken to jokingly referring to herself as the Susan Lucci of the awards. (Lucci, an actress in the long-running soap opera “All My Children,” was nominated for a Daytime Emmy 19 times before she finally notched a win in 1999.)

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This is the first nomination for both Amendola and Chu. Reached by phone Wednesday, Amendola said he was “still in shock” over the news. He learned of the nomination on his way to work, via a text from Chu.

“I wasn’t expecting that today,” said Amendola, who opened Foraged in Hampden in late 2017. The hyper-seasonal restaurant, which takes its name from Amendola’s penchant for foraging mushrooms and other ingredients to use in his cooking, relocated to Station North in 2021.

“I’m just humbled to be included on that list,” Amendola said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Chef Steve Chu, a James Beard Awards semifinalist, at his Ekiben restaurant in Hampden.

For Chu, the nomination comes on the heels of another honor for Ekiben, the popular Asian fusion restaurant with locations in Fells Point, Hampden and Riverside. Ekiben recently was named to food review app Yelp’s list of Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S.

“It’s such a big honor,” Chu said. “We’re just a little sandwich shop, and we just try to put our best foot forward everyday and try to change the narrative of how people view Baltimore.”

Though he’s the one in the running for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, Chu credited his whole team with the honor.

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“I’m just the one answering interviews,” he said. “This nomination is a reflection of the talent that Baltimore has.”


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