Uptown restaurants are well-represented among James Beard semifinalists

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A meal at Coquette in the Garden District, where chef Michael Stoltzfus has racked up three James Beard nominations.

Of the 12 New Orleans restaurants honored this year on the list of the 2023 James Beard Award semifinalists, half are in Uptown neighborhoods. Honorees range from an iconic grand dame, Commander’s Palace, to a newly opened Senegalese restaurant, Dakar NOLA. 

The James Beard Awards, established in 1990, considered the Oscars of the food world, are the highest honors in the U.S. food industry. The finalists will be announced on March 29 and the winners on June 5.

Five chefs from four Uptown restaurants have been nominated in the category of Best Chef in the South: Ana Castro of Lengua Madre; Melissa M. Martin of Mosquito Supper Club; Colleen Quarls and Liz Hollinger of Molly’s Rise and Shine; and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette.

The James Beard Foundation includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico in this regional category. 

The James Beard Foundation uses this criteria when choosing its Best Chefs: “Chefs who set high standards in their culinary skills and leadership abilities, and who are making efforts to help create a sustainable work culture in their respective regions while contributing positively to their broader community.”

One of the local chefs nominated in the category is Ana Castro, who only recently opened her Lower Garden District restaurant. “Lengua Madre is a very personal project as well as an incredibly young one, just 18 months old. I’m flattered and humbled to be considered alongside some outstanding chefs and their teams,” she said. “That a contemporary Mexican restaurant is being represented at this level in the U.S. South fills me with joy and excitement about the future opportunities to strengthen the bond between two neighboring nations that have more in common than people think.”

Uptown can claim the following James Beard semifinalists:

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Dakar NOLA opened in November 2022 at 3814 Magazine St.

Emerging Chef nominee
Serigne Mbaye, Dakar NOLA
3814 Magazine St.

This new restaurant, formed from Chef Mbaye’s pop-up of the same name, rotates its menu every four to six weeks and presents the influences of West African cuisine on that of local fare. Whole shrimp with tamarind is a signature dish. 

Mbaye was born in the United States but raised mostly in Senegal. He graduated at the top of his New England Culinary Institute class, then ended up New Orleans after a chance encounter at the airport during a trip back home to Senegal. He was invited to  a two-year Commander’s program that gave him the opportunity to work through every station in the kitchen.

He was later promoted to sous chef at Café Adelaide, then worked at top restaurants in San Francisco and New York before returning to New Orleans, on the weekend before the pandemic shutdown. He developed the Dakar NOLA pop-up during the pandemic, while also serving as chef de cuisine at the Mosquito Supper Club, for which he was named Eater NOLA’s 2021 Chef of the Year.

via New Orleans & Co.

Commander’s Palace is nominated for its wine and beverage program.

Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program nominee
Commander’s Palace 
1403 Washington Ave.

Commanding the corner of Washington and Coliseum in the Garden District, this restaurant is famous for haute Creole cuisine, its convivial atmosphere and its jazz brunches. It is also a wine destination, offering a 120-page wine list. Commander’s has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner for 10 years running, beginning in 2012.

According to the James Beard Foundation: “This award is presented to a restaurant that demonstrates exceptional care and skill in the pairing of wine and other beverages with food while contributing positively to its broader community.”

James Collier

Chef Ana Castro was raised by her grandmother, right, in Mexico City. It was in her grandmother’s kitchen that she gained her passion for cooking.

Best Chef in the South nominees

Chef Ana Castro, Lengua Madre 
1245 Constance St.

Lengua Madre features reimagined Mexican dishes passed down through generations and a menu that changes with the seasons. It was named the Best New Restaurant by Bon Appetit, and chef Ana Castro was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs.”

Lengua Madre, opening in August of 2021, is the first solo venture for Castro. Castro was born in South Texas and raised in Mexico City by her paternal grandmother. She found her passion for cooking in her grandmother’s kitchen. She attended Le Cordon Bleu Mexico and studied the craft in India and, later, throughout Europe.

She learned the ropes at much-lauded restaurants in Mexico City and New York City, then moved to New Orleans to spend more time with her sister. It was here that Castro found a home and a restaurant that was a perfect fit for her, Coquette.

“I started at Coquette and worked my way through the kitchen,” Castro told Uptown Messenger. “New Orleans embraced me, so I made a home here.”

Melissa M. Martin, Mosquito Supper Club 
3824 Dryades St.

The Mosquito Supper Club features a communal multi-course tasting menu that celebrates the bounty of local seafood and produce. With a limited menu and limited evenings open for business, this restaurant is dedicated to sustainability. 

Martin is a Louisiana native and graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans. She began her culinary career in Northern California, where she evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. When she returned to New Orleans, she opened the Satsuma Cafe and worked at Cafe Hope before launching the Mosquito Supper Club.

via City Planning Commission

Molly’s Rise and Shine, 2368 Magazine St.

Colleen Quarls and Liz Hollinger, Molly’s Rise and Shine
2368 Magazine St.

Molly’s Rise and Shine in the Lower Garden District is able to shine as a breakfast spot, thanks to Quarls and Hollinger. It is likely the only local restaurant on the James Beard list without a menu item that tops $12. Breakfast sandwiches such as the Grand Slam McMuffin and carrot-flavored yogurt are among their popular dishes. 

Chef Colleen Quarls had this to say: “Liz Hollinger and I are excited, delighted, surprised and humbled by this honor. We found out when the owner of Molly’s Rise and Shine called us with the good news.” 

Chef de cuisine Quarls is another veteran of Coquette, which was among the high-end local restaurants she worked in after culinary school at Nicholls State University. She was sous chef at Coquette when chef and entrepreneur Mason Hereford invited her to join the team at his upcoming venture, Turkey & The Wolf. While waiting for it to open, she worked at Cochon. When Hereford spun off Molly’s Rise and Shine, she moved over to lead the team.

Hollinger is the sous chef and pastry chef at Molly’s Rise and Shine. The New Orleans native trained at French Culinary Institute, studied at Boston College and worked at restaurants in the Northeast before returning to New Orleans, where she also served as the pastry chef for Hi-Volt Bakery.

Michael Stoltzfus, Coquette
2800 Magazine St.

Coquette offers contemporary Southern cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced products and international inspiration. The restaurant occupies a notable 1880s corner building with dinner being served on two floors. In addition to à la carte, they also serve a five-course tasting menu, with an optional wine pairing.

Chef Stoltzfus embarked on his culinary journey while cooking breakfast and lunch at his family’s restaurant in Maryland. He learned by reading a variety of cookbooks and  experimenting at home. He must have learned well — he was hired to work at New Orleans’ esteemed Restaurant August, where he was promoted to sous chef after six months.

His entrepreneurial spirit flared, and he opened Coquette in 2008. His inspired cooking has earned his restaurant a spot on the Times-Picayune’s New Orleans Top Ten Restaurant List and Stoltzfus has been named a finalist in the James Beard “Best Chef: South,” award for the past two years.

See here for the full list of James Beard semifinalists.

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Thiakry pie, pecan, ataya ice cream at Dakar NOLA

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