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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/15/2011

Four locals in the hunt for Food & Wine's
People's Best New Chef award

By Tim Carman
david guas_opt.jpg David Guas: Among the best new chefs in America. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Four area chefs, including Kyle Bailey of Birch & Barley and David Guas of Bayou Bakery, are nominated for the People's Best New Chef award, an honor that Food & Wine magazine has created this year to complement its annual Best New Chef search.

"We feel like the foodie culture has evolved to such an extent...that asking this type of question will get a valuable answer," says Dana Cowin, the magazine's editor in chief. When editors previously pondered such a public component, she adds, they felt people had not eaten around enough to make meaningful decisions about chefs and their food. But the rapidly accelerating foodie culture has changed that.

"Now it feels like the right moment," Cowin says.

The magazine has been talking to local stringers, including Amanda McClements of Metrocurean, and conducting its own research to round up the 100 nominees for the People's Best New Chef award. There are 10 nominees in 10 regions; the Mid-Atlantic nominees include not only Guas and Bailey but also Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca and Daniel Giusti of 1789. The Washington area and Philadelphia were tied with four nominees each in the Mid-Atlantic, Cowin says.

In this competition, a "new chef" means one who has run his or her own kitchen for five years or less.

"Yeah, I was very surprised," Guas said when reached by phone before dinner service Monday evening. "The overwhelming feeling I got when I got the news was shock and disbelief. Like, 'Are you sure they got the right guy?' "

But the disbelief soon turned into satisfaction, the chef says, after he started recounting all the hours he had put into Bayou Bakery to get it off the ground. He had to admit the timing was good, too, because the announcement came shortly after a tepid review from The Post's Tom Sietsema: "It was a nice sort of pick-me-up." The Arlington restaurant opened in November 2010.

The chef and his wife, public relations pro Simone Rathle, will start marshaling Bayou Bakery's fans on Facebook and other places to vote for Guas as part of the nationwide contest. Voting begins today on CNN's Eatocracy site and ends March 1. The 10 regional winners and the overall champion will be announced the following day. (Food & Wine's own picks for Best New Chef will be announced April 5.)

"There are no rules against bribery," Guas says with a wink. You could almost hear him frying up the beignets in the background.

When Cowin was asked why Food & Wine is sending the public to Eatocracy to cast ballots, depriving the magazine of valuable Web traffic, she said voters will have a chance to visit the F&W site to learn more about the nominated chefs. But she admitted the partnership is strategic. Eatocracy's readership, after all, may be different from Food & Wine's.

"It's a whole new audience that is devoted to food," Cowin says, "and maybe is broader than Food & Wine's [audience]."

Incidentally, the editor says, CNN's online voting tools are sophisticated enough to prevent electronic ballot stuffing: The software allows only one vote per IP address, which should give Cowin and her colleagues a better sense of how closely public opinion mirrors their own.

"It's really interesting to put the vote out to the people," Cowin says. "Do the editors and the people see as one? Are there great discrepancies? We have no idea."

It'll also be interesting to see whether any of the nominees from The People's Best New Chef award turn up in the July issue of Food & Wine as part of the editorial staff's picks for Best New Chef. Cowin said it would be logical to have some crossover between the two lists, but in the same breath, she said it wouldn't be surprising if there wasn't.

Her hedging was understandable. The magazine hasn't made its picks yet.

By Tim Carman  | February 15, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chefs, Media  | Tags:  Tim Carman  
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