Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen misses out on top James Beard award

James Beard Awards were given out in Chicago on Monday, May 7, 2018.
James Beard Awards were given out in Chicago on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen missed out on winning the culinary world's top award this year as the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef went to New York City chef Gabrielle Hamilton.

Christensen, the acclaimed chef of Poole’s Diner and Death & Taxes and other Raleigh restaurants, was one of five chefs nominated for the Beard Foundation’s top chef award.

Monday night, the James Beard Foundation held its annual awards gala in Chicago, considered the Oscars of the food world.

The Outstanding Chef award is given annually to a chef whose restaurants and influence have made an impact on the national food scene.

Hamilton is owner and chef of Prune restaurant, which she opened in 2009. She was nominated for Best Chef: NYC in 2009, 2010 and 2011, winning in 2011.

Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant won the James Beard Award in 2018 for Best Chef in the country. Prune restaurant

Other chefs in the category were David Kinch, Manresa (Los Gatos, Calif.); Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena, Calif.); and Donald Link, Herbsaint (New Orleans).

For many, being a finalist for the national award establishes Christensen in the premier tier of America's chefs but also shines a light on Raleigh, her home for more than 20 years.

Christensen previously won a Beard Award in 2014 as Best Chef: Southeast. She owns four restaurants in downtown Raleigh plus a cocktail bar and an event space. A pizza restaurant is on the way next year next to Poole’s.

North Carolina chefs have won four James Beard awards for their cooking, with Christensen preceded by Andrea Reusing of Lantern in 2011, Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill in 2000, each for Best Chef: Southeast, and Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill in 2003 for Outstanding Pastry Chef, a national award.

Over the years, the Outstanding Chef award has tended to favor chefs in major cities, almost exclusively going to those in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, many running high-profile, fine dining restaurants regularly named among the 100 best in the world.

RAL_ AC13-THY-112117-JEL
Chef Ashley Christensen outside her restaurants Chuck’s and Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. Christensen, who has built community through food, has helped stimulate Raleigh’s downtown with her restaurants. Juli Leonard

In December, the Eater food blog named Christensen the national chef of the year. The Eater critics said Christensen brings a voice and sizable platform to issues facing the restaurant industry and the Triangle community where she’s made her home.

Asheville's Katie Button was nominated for Best Chef: Southeast, the only chef from North Carolina in this category. She owns two Asheville restaurants: Curate and Nightbell.

Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott's BBQ in Charleston took home the award.

Birmingham's Highlands Bar & Grill, a landmark of Southern cuisine, was named this year's Outstanding Restaurant, capping a decade-long run of nominations with a win.

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
Related stories from Charlotte Observer