Could the third time be the charm for Tampa chef Greg Baker?
The innovative chef of the Refinery in Seminole Heights has been named a semifinalist for Best Chef: South for the second consecutive year by the James Beard Foundation. In 2011, the Refinery got a Best New Restaurant nomination. Baker is the only Tampa Bay semifinalist this year in any category, after being among three honored in 2012. Semifinalists are nominated by local food writers and critics and other food professionals.
"It's a little staggering, incredibly humbling and flattering at the same time," Baker said. "The recognition is really nice, but the reality is, I am still in the kitchen doing what I do."
The Refinery and Baker got some national attention last August when the Republican National Convention was in Tampa. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema called it a "funky foodie favorite" and recommended it to RNC visitors.
"I am sure a nice little shout-out tweet from (former New York Times food critic) Frank Bruni didn't hurt us. Even though he doesn't write about food anymore, he still carries a big stick," Baker said.
The last time the Tampa Bay area had a James Beard winner was 1992, the second year the awards were given. Bern's Steak House sommelier Derrick Pagan won for wine service.
The Refinery, at 5137 N Florida Ave., has received consistent good reviews for its focus on fresh, local ingredients and its menus that change weekly. Baker owns the Refinery with his wife, Michelle. Chef Mario Batali stopped by for a meal there earlier last year.
This list of 20 semifinalists will be culled to five and the winners will be announced at a May 6 gala at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The finalists will be announced on March 18.
Baker is among a number of Florida chefs on the semifinalist list in his category. The others are Peter Arpke, Beach Bistro, Holmes Beach; Kathleen Blake, the Rusty Spoon, Orlando; Clay Conley, Buccan, Palm Beach; Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort; Brandon McGlamery, Luma on Park, Winter Park; Jeff McInnis, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Miami Beach; Jose Mendin, Pubbelly, Miami Beach; James and Julie Petrakis, the Ravenous Pig, Winter Park; and Hari Pulapaka, Cress, DeLand.
Other Florida semifinalists are Khong River House, Miami Beach, for Best New Restaurant; the Broken Shaker, Miami Beach, for Best Bar Program; Hedy Goldsmith, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Miami, for Best Pastry Chef; Victoria & Albert's at Disney for Best Service; and Giorgio Rapicavoli, Eating House, Coral Gables, for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional.
For a complete list of semifinalists, go to jamesbeard.org. The James Beard Foundation names the best chefs, restaurants and food professionals each year along with honoring cookbooks and food writing.