Two Uptown chefs advance to the James Beard finals

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Left: Denny Culbert, Lengua Madre; right: James Collier, Dakar NOLA

Chefs Ana Castro of Lengua Madre and Serigne Mbaye of Dakar NOLA

The coveted James Beard Awards finalists were announced last week, including “Best Chef in the South Region” and “Emerging Chef.” Two of the finalists in that number are in Uptowns restaurants. And both are relatively new on the local food scene.

Chef Ana Castro of Lengua Madre was honored in the “Best Chef in the South” category, which includes Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Puerto Rico. 

And in the “Emerging Chef” category, chef Serigne Mbaye of Dakar NOLA advanced to the finals.

The James Beard Awards, established in 1990, sometimes referred to as “the Oscars of the food world” are the highest honors in the U.S. food industry. The finalists were announced on March 29; and the winners will be announced on June 5.

Denny Culbert photo courtesy of Lengua Madre

Cantina Night at Lengua Madre

Chef Castro, Lengua Madre, is no stranger to national culinary awards. She was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs in 2022.” That same year, Lengua Madre was named the Best New Restaurant by Bon Appetit.

The James Beard Award considers an Outstanding Chef as one “who sets high culinary standards and has served as a positive example for other food professionals, while contributing positively to their broader community.” Eligible candidates must have been working as a chef for three or more consecutive years. 

“To get to represent my culture and my beloved city at once is a dream come true,” Castro said. “I am eternally indebted to the people of New Orleans for their continued support. Hopefully I can bring this home for y’all.”

Located on Constance and Thalia streets in the Lower Garden District, Castro’s restaurant serves dinner, offering a five-course set tasting menu rooted in traditional Mexican cuisine. It features dishes passed down through generations that are reimagined.

ames Collier photo courtesy of Dakar NOLA

Tasting menu at Dakar NOLA

Dakar NOLA. with Chef Mbaye at the helm, is located at 3814 Magazine Street. It offers Senegalese food with a modern twist, which reflects the deep cultural connection of cuisine between Senegambia and New Orleans. The influences of West African cuisine on local fare are explores in a menu that rotates every four to six weeks. 

The criteria for the Emerging Chef category, with no age limit attached to it,  is “a chef who displays exceptional talent, character and leadership ability, and who is likely to make a significant impact in years to come, while contributing positively to their broader community.”

“It feels great to be honored for cooking food that is true to me and my Senegalese upbringing,” Chef Serigne told Uptown Messenger. “I am grateful for the chance to bring Senegalese cuisine to a wider audience most of whom recognize flavors they never knew were actually African.”

Castro and Serigne were among six Uptown chefs named as James Beard semifinalists this year. The others nominees for Best Chef in the South were Melissa M. Martin of Mosquito Supper Club, Colleen Quarls and Liz Hollinger of Molly’s Rise and Shine, and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette. In addition, Commander’s Palace was nominated in the Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program category.

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