Mainers among semifinalists for James Beard Award

Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 6:04 PM EST
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ROCKPORT, Maine (WABI) - When you look at who the semifinalists are for the James Beard awards, you’ll see the names of some Mainers.

The nonprofit organization behind the prestigious award says that they seek to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture.

Sara Jenkins is the owner and chef of Nina June on Central Street in Rockport.

Now, she’s a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef Northeast Award.

Jenkins spent most of her childhood in the Mediterranean before returning to the US when she was 16.

In her 30 years as a chef, she’s seen Maine transform its ability to provide fresh ingredients and better access to locally raised animals and seafood.

“And so that’s incredibly exciting and that allows me to really tap into what for me Italian food really is,” said Jenkins.

She got a call from a colleague not too long ago to let her know of the accomplishment.

“So then I was all like pleased and I went and I punched and looked into the list and it’s thrilling. You know, it’s really, really exciting to be to feel like you’re recognized for the hard work that we all put in,” Jenkins said.

But Chef Jenkins noted this wouldn’t have been possible without those around her.

“You know, restaurants are a team effort. So, you know, I got the light shined on me, but there’s no way I could be here without my staff backing me up,” said Jenkins.

Another semifinalist is a restaurant in Monson for Outstanding Hospitality.

The Quarry on Tenney Hill Road may be listed as a fine dining restaurant, but to its owner Marilou Ranta otherwise known as Lulu, it’s much more than that.

“To me, it’s almost like an extension of our home. That’s how I treat my customers. Whatever they need. If I have them. I will, you know, give it to them. To make them happy. To have the best experience in my restaurant,” said Ranta.

Lulu and her patrons enjoy what she calls fun dining.

And getting this award was beyond her wildest dreams.

“I thought that’s only for the city restaurants, the big fine dining restaurants, you know?” Ranta said.

Finalists for the award are set to be announced in March.