Cara Stadler of Asian-French restaurant Tao Yuan in Brunswick saw the tweets Wednesday morning and was surprised.
“I’m totally shocked. I thought we were off the radar in the grand scheme of things,” said Stadler, one of seven Maine culinary talents to be deemed James Beard Award semifinalists this week.
Being considered for The Rising Star Chef of the Year, an award bestowed to promising chefs under the age of 30, is “incredibly flattering,” said the 26-year-old.
Fellow nominees for the 2014 James Beard Awards, known as the “Oscars of the food world,” include Outstanding Restaurant of the Year, Fore Street in Portland and Primo in Rockland. These eateries have multiple nominations. Last year Primo chef and owner Melissa Kelly won her second Best Chef Northeast award.
This year the Best Chef Northeast category has three Maine contenders. Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden was nominated; he too has been tapped many times before. Joining him is Masa Miyake of Miyake in Portland, the chef who also owns and operates Pai Men Miyake and Miyake Diner in Portland. This is a Beard first for the trend-setter who introduced tasting menus to the city in 2007.
“It’s not something I was seeking,” said Miyake, who has a farm in Freeport where he raises livestock. “It was not my main goal, but I definitely appreciate it.”
Ravin Nakjaroen of Camden pan-Asian restaurant Long Grain was nominated a second time. The chef from Thailand said he reached semifinal status in 2008 for his former restaurant The Four Rivers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I feel great. Someone sees what we are doing here. I am very grateful for that,” said Nakjaroen.
At his handmade noodle house he uses local ingredients to create crossover dishes and new tastes.
“We just focus on really good ingredients and comfort food. It’s a homemade product,” Nakjaroen said.
The 36-year-old likes to keep things simple and ever-changing.
“It’s like you are coming into my house,” Nakjaroen said. “If we feel like Italian, we do Italian, if we want to do Thai then that’s what you will find.”
Finally, Rob Tod of Allagash Brewery in Portland was nominated for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, a long overdue recognition for the pioneering Maine brewery.
Stadler at Tao Yuan, one of the youngest Maine chefs to be acknowledged, has worked for Gordon Ramsay in Versailles, attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and learned from top chefs in California, Philadelphia, Singapore and Beijing.
The classically trained French cook takes her talent to Portland this spring with a new dumpling house at the corner of Spring and Park streets. If her first Portland opening dovetails with a Beard win, expect standing room only.
“I couldn’t have been more excited, it’s the best you could ever ask for,” she said. “I don’t do fine dining food, we just do really delicious food.”
Finalists in all awards categories will be announced on Tuesday, March 19, and winners will be announced in gala ceremonies on May 2 and 5 in New York City.