Two popular Birmingham chefs were named 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.”

And the nominees are…

  • Chanah Willis, owner and chef at Last Call Baking —  Emerging Chef 
  • Rob McDaniel, owner and chef at Helen  — Best Chef in the South

Bham Now is very familiar with this year’s honorees. Both Last Call Baking and Helen are only a few blocks from our downtown Morris Avenue office.

We were able to catch up with James Beard semifinalist Chanah Willis to ask them to describe how they felt earning the emerging chef recognition.

“Super elated, surprised, freaked out, and honored to even be considered. I wake up every morning to cover myself in flour and bake bread because I can’t imagine doing anything else. This nomination definitely reinforces that obsession, and I can’t be more thankful.” – Chanah Willis, owner and chef at Last Call Baking

Rob McDaniel is no stranger to James Beard Awards. Before he and his wife Emily opened Helen, McDaniel was named a JB Best Chef semifinalist from 2013-2017 for his work at the SpringHouse restaurant on Lake Martin.

Past Birmingham James Beard winners

Birmingham is home to a number of James Beard winners. Here is the latest list.

Finalists for the 2024  awards will be announced on April 3rd and the winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on June 10th.

Good luck to Chefs Willis and McDaniel! In the meantime, pay them a visit in downtown Birmingham and see firsthand why this national honor is well deserved.

Photo Credits: Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now