Birmingham chefs, restaurant and bar well represented on James Beard semifinalist list

Atomic Lounge Birmingham
Atomic Lounge Birmingham
Atomic Lounge owners Rachael Roberts and Feizal Valli

Birmingham is once again well represented on the 2018 list of James Beard semifinalists.

Described as the “Oscars” of the food world, the James Beard Awards were established in 1990 by the James Beard Foundation to “recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and furthers the foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone.”

This year’s Birmingham semi-finalists includes newcomer Atomic Lounge for the Outstanding Bar Program, Highlands Bar & Grill for the Outstanding Restaurant, Dolester Miles, Highlands’ pastry chef for Outstanding Pastry Chef and Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood for Best Chef: South category.

Highlands Bar & Grill has been named a semifinalist for ten consecutive years, while Dolester Miles has received the Outstanding Pastry Chef honor for five years in a row.

Other Alabama semi-finalists included: David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Brill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs in Orange Beach for the Best Chef: South category.

Bham Now was able to catch up with Atomic Lounge owners and husband and wife team Feizal Valli and Rachael Roberts about receiving the Outstanding Bar Program honor.

Atomic Lounge, photo by Pat Byington

“My first job here was with Frank (Stitt) at Highlands, so I didn’t really know about the Beards until I started working for Frank. That’s when I became aware how big a deal it was, and how it effected Birmingham,” stated Valli.

About receiving the honor.

“We are both in disbelief,” added Roberts.

“When I came into the hospitality world in Birmingham, I always knew of Frank Stitt as a James Beard nominated restaurateur, that’s always been the highest praise.”

About receiving national recognition Valli  told us he was “still processing it.”

“What makes this special for us, the Beards section it off. There is the outstanding restaurant, new restaurant, wine program, South, East.

The Outstanding Bar Program is nationwide, just that one category. That makes it even crazier. It’s not like outstanding program Southeast which would have been crazy in itself. It is America.”

Atomic Lounge

Truly a national award, according to the James Beard Foundation, this year’s semifinalists were chosen from 23,000 online entries by the Beard judges. Nominees for the awards will be announced on March 14, with winners honored at the James Beard Foundation Awards gala on May 7 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

Stay tuned

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.