After a Two-Year Absence, the James Beard Awards Are Back, and Oregon Has Nine Semifinalists

Thuy Pham of Mama Dut, República, and Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom of Eem are among the honorees.

The James Beard Foundation announced its list of 2022 semifinalists, and while Portland is represented among the honorees, there are far fewer local nominations than in years past—a likely sign that COVID continues to challenge the culinary industry.

Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom of Eem, Hat Yai and Langbaan continues to prove he’s a force to be reckoned with, popping up in the Outstanding Restaurateur category again after being a candidate for the title in 2020 and 2019.

Thuy Pham, who quickly rose to prominence by opening Mama Dut during the pandemic, is nominated for Emerging Chef. The former private hairstylist started making vegan Vietnamese recipes to occupy her time during lockdown when statewide coronavirus restrictions kept her from working. After livestreaming her cooking on Instagram for clients, they immediately began asking to buy her food, and the business took off from there. Pham’s brick-and-mortar is now located in the Buckman neighborhood.

And República, the buzzed-about multicourse Mexican-forward establishment in the Pearl District that uses hard-to-find ingredients, is up for Best New Restaurant.

There were also two Oregon nominations outside of Portland. Jonathan Jones, of Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails in Salem, was named in the Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific category; and Hood River’s Hiyu Wine Farm received a nod for Outstanding Wine Program.

There were nine statewide nominations in all, a considerable drop from 2020′s 15 honorees and 2017′s crop of 16 semifinalists.

Although nominees were named in 2020, the awards did not take place that year, nor did it go forward in 2021. And the pandemic isn’t the sole cause.

The James Beard Foundation—named after the legendary Portland-born chef—originally said it scrapped the ceremony two years ago because of the hardships restaurant owners faced during the global health crisis.

However, The New York Times reported a week after that announcement that the organization didn’t go forward with a virtual program because it had learned there were no Black winners—highly problematic since one of its goals is to promote racial equity. The Times also discovered that organizers couldn’t figure out how to proceed when a number of nominees faced accusations of fostering toxic work environments.

The foundation did not mention the previous years’ dilemmas when it announced the 2022 candidates, which will be whittled down to a list of finalists on April 27. Winners will then be celebrated June 13 at an in-person ceremony in Chicago.

Here is the complete list of Oregon’s semifinalists:

Outstanding Restaurateur

  • Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom, Langbaan, Hat Yai, Eem, and others, Portland

Emerging Chef

  • Thuy Pham, Mama Đút, Portland

Best New Restaurant

  • República, Portland

Outstanding Hospitality

  • Coquine, Portland

Outstanding Wine Program

  • Hiyu Wine Farm, Hood River

Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific

  • Jonathan Jones, Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails, Salem
  • Carlo Lamagna, Magna Kusina, Portland
  • Vince Nguyen, Berlu, Portland
  • Thomas Pisha-Duffly, Oma’s Hideaway, Portland

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.