Local Chefs Nominated for James Beard Awards

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires Staff
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LENOX, Mass. — Local diners and foodies are not the only ones raving about the Berkshire food culture.

Last week, the James Beard Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit culinary organization, announced three Berkshire competitors among the 2011 semi-finalists for the annual James Beard Awards.

Two area chefs, Peter Platt of the Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough and Bjorn Somlo of Nudel on Church Street, were nominated for the Best Chef in the Northeast category while Blantyre, a Lenox guesthouse, eatery and spa, was nominated for Outstanding Service.

Somlo and Platt are two of only four chefs nominated from Massachusetts; the other two are in Cambridge and Boston. Blantyre is one of 20 hotel/restaurants selected from across the nation, and one of only two in Massachusetts, the other being L'Espalier in Boston.

While the nominations are an honor, said Somlo, the real honor is in the everyday praise and conversation he has with his customers.

"I was actually not aware of the Beard nomination until people started congratulating me on Facebook," he said in a phone interview. "Most of what we do here is strictly based on the feedback we get from the people who eat here. What I'm really interested in is feeding those who will enjoy it the most. It's less of a concept than it is about doing less and doing it better."
Somlo's simple approach to good food echoes Platt's own culinary beliefs. As a veteran chef, Platt said he's learned over the years that a little luck and a lot of experience are the two essential ingredients for a successful kitchen.

"If you look back at what you've done over the years you start to see trends of likes and dislikes," he said. "That ends up showing on the menu. We serve food you can eat every day. We don't do crazy, cutting-edge cuisine. We do things that people like to eat and we do it very well."

While humble home foods such as buttermilk fried chicken and mushroom risotto are favorites on the Old Inn menu, don't be fooled. Recently, the restaurant received high ratings from gourmet publications including a Zagat review/score of 28. Blantyre has also enjoyed some international spotlight, having recently been voted No. 1 Small Hotel in the U.S. (No. 66 in the world) by Conde Naste Traveler.

"We are thrilled about our James Beard Foundation 'Best Service' nomination as we are about Nudel's and Inn on the Green's," Blantyre owner Ann Fitzpatrick Brown wrote in an email to iBerkshires.

The hotel's food and beverage manager Anthony Boi said it's time that Berkshires did make it on the culinary map.

"We've participated with quite a few publications and the James Beard Award is a very well-respected accolade," he said. "It's a great thing and we are proud to see the Berkshire names on that list. We're in good company."

That good company does not just include area chefs. Somlo said his inspiration comes from the many local farmers and growers who, season to season, provide him with beautiful produce and a strong network of resources.

"When they bring their product through the door, I know it's not the kind of thing to be hidden by something else or served as an accoutrement," he said. "When I say beets, I mean beets. That should be the star of the show for that day. I enjoy all of the challenges of being seasonal. I'm happiest when I'm cooking."

The next round of selections for the JBF award nominees will take place next month with the final selection slated for an official ceremony in May, but none of these local chefs are waiting with bated breath; they're too busy making quality food with local flavor.

"We really like things that are local," Platt said. "They seem to taste better and we appreciate it more. We want to learn their story and good stories are really important these days."

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