PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia is becoming known as a foodie city. As a result, three local chefs are finalists for the prestigious awards. As of the moment, the area has three semifinalists for Best Chef in the 2022 James Beard Awards.
The Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic nominees from Philly include Jesse Ito of Royal Izakaya, Cristina Martinez, South Philly Barbacoa, and Chutatip "Nok" Suntaranon of Kalaya Thai Kitchen.
Jesse Ito of Royal Izakaya
As a teenager, Jesse Ito began working as a dishwasher at Fuji restaurant. At age 16, he moved behind the sushi bar. His father helped him learn the trade. He worked full-time at the restaurant while attending Rutgers School of Business-Camden. After selling Fuji in January 2016, Ito opened Royal Izakaya in Queen Village. The restaurant feels more like an intimate, upscale gastropub with its low-counter. Customers can watch chef Ito cut the fish right before their eyes.
Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa
The unassuming Cristina Martinez of South Philadelphia is a must-visit for those looking to experience authentic Mexican cuisine. Her restaurant Barbacoa in the Italian Market specializes in traditional slow-cooked barbacoa tacos. In addition to creating an outstanding Mexican dining experience, Martinez is also an activist in Philly and has started a series of dinners called Right2Work. The dinners bring together chefs, restaurant workers, and public members to discuss undocumented people's issues in the restaurant industry. This series of events has led to the creation and advocacy group called the Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers' Rights.
Nok Suntaranon of Kalaya Thai Kitchen
Kalaya Thai Kitchen is part of the Defined Hospitality restaurant group. Nok Suntaranon is committed to providing authentic Thai cuisine and is making his dream a reality. Chef Suntaranon started out hosting private parties and catering special events, and in 2019 Nok Suntaranon set out to find a space of her own, and in 2019 she founded Kalaya Kitchen in Philadelphia's Bella Vista neighborhood.
Good luck to all three Philadelphia semifinalists for Best Chef in the 2022 James Beard Awards.