With only one nominee in Monday night's James Beard Awards, Minneapolis came up empty-handed at the Chicago ceremony.
Shawn McKenzie, the pastry chef and entrepreneur behind Café Cerés and its signature Middle Eastern-inflected baked goods, was Minnesota's sole representative vying for one of the prestigious awards. McKenzie was a nominee in the highly competitive national category of Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker.
Margarita Manzke, the pastry chef of République in Los Angeles, was named the winner.
"Relieved and relaxed," McKenzie told the Star Tribune shortly after finding out Manzke won. "I am truly thankful for being noticed in this way. My father would have been proud and that is a true win for me."
But just the nomination, her first, was primed to be transformative for McKenzie.
"We're gonna see people's lives changed, and we are gonna get those moments that we get to bring back to our communities," said local TV host and producer Andrew Zimmern, one of the evening's hosts, during a preshow red carpet event.
McKenzie faced stiff competition from around the country. In addition to winner Manzke, the other nominees in her category were Veronika Gerasimova of Veronika's Pastry Shop, Billings, Mont.; Elaine Uykimpang Bentz of Café Mochiko, Cincinnati; and Vince Bugtong of Abacá, San Francisco.
A Washington native, McKenzie came to Minneapolis from Portland, Ore., in 2013, at the urging of her friend, mentor and eventual business partner, Daniel del Prado.
She worked first as pastry chef at Burch Steak under Isaac Becker, before becoming the executive chef for Penny's Cafe. When Penny's closed, McKenzie and del Prado together took over the Linden Hills cafe, opening the first Café Cerés at the end of 2020. There are now two more. McKenzie is also a partner with del Prado in Cardamom at the Walker Art Center. Last year, she joined Rustica Bakery, where she is responsible for their pastries.
The high-profile culinary awards, widely viewed as the industry's highest honors, recognize and celebrate excellence in restaurants and food media, "as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive," according to the foundation.
The awards returned in 2022 after a two-year hiatus brought on by the pandemic and an internal reckoning at the foundation over diversity. During that time, the foundation "underwent a full audit of its policies and procedures, continuing the work to remove bias, increase transparency and accessibility, and making the program more aligned with the Foundation's mission and values," according to a statement.
The push for diversity among the nominees was a frequent topic of conversation on the red carpet before the 2023 awards.
"After this little hiatus, forced hiatus, the chefs are so exciting right now because they made it to the other side, and they are here," food icon chef Carla Hall said during the preshow. "So young, so diverse, so interesting, and literally we are seeing cultural history in the making."
The restaurant awards fall into 10 national categories and 12 regional categories. Of the four semifinalists for 2023 Best Chef Midwest, none moved forward in the regional category to become nominees. Six Twin Cities chefs are previous winners of the Best Chef: Midwest category, which encompasses Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Former La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee's win in 2009 was the first time a Minneapolis chef took home the honor. Additional local winners are Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma) in 2010, Isaac Becker (112 Eatery) in 2011, Paul Berglund (formerly of the Bachelor Farmer) in 2016, Gavin Kaysen (Spoon and Stable) in 2018 and Ann Kim (Young Joni) in 2019. Kaysen is Minnesota's only national James Beard Award-winning chef; he was named Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2008 during his tenure at Café Boulud in New York City.
Last year, Owamni, the Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis from Dana Thompson and chef Sean Sherman, brought home the national honor of being named the Best New Restaurant in the country.