- File: Oliver Parini
- Cara Chigazola Tobin
The James Beard Awards are the food industry's highest honor — its Oscars, its Pulitzers, its Nobel Prizes. For the third year in a row, Vermont is represented in the awards' semifinals by Cara Chigazola Tobin and Deirdre Heekin.
The James Beard Foundation announced its 30th annual Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists on February 26. Chigazola Tobin, chef and co-owner of Honey Road in Burlington, is recognized in the Best Chef: Northeast category along with 19 other New England chefs.
Heekin, of La Garagista Farm + Winery in Barnard, is one of 20 semifinalists for the nationwide Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer award, and the only New Englander to make the list in that category.
"The recognition is a message of support from the food and wine community — that we're doing something special here in Vermont and with these varieties," Heekin told Seven Days. She was referring to the often-underestimated cold-hardy hybrid grapes that she farms biodynamically at vineyards around the state with her husband, Caleb Barber, and assistant wine grower Camila Carrillo.
"It means that we're maintaining our momentum and consistency as wine growers," Heekin continued. "Consistent can sometimes be a bad word because it isn't exciting, but it's a recognition of the hard work and focus that we're putting into this project."
Chigazola Tobin, who was also a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category in 2018, doesn't take making the list for granted.
"Honestly, it's kind of a huge pressure," she said. "You look at the list, and it's mostly places in Maine and Boston — cities where there are a bunch of people — and then one chef and one winemaker in Vermont. Now I'm terrified not to be on the list."
The next step in the award process is a winnowing of the nominees, and finalists will be announced on March 25. The winners in the restaurant and chef categories will receive their awards in Chicago on May 4. The foundation also hosts separate ceremonies honoring work in food media and leadership.
"I'm glad Vermont is being recognized. We have a thriving food scene, and this keeps us on the map," Chigazola Tobin said. "It feels really good for the team that Honey Road is being recognized for all of our hard work, too. I like to see them get really excited about it and know that what they're doing every day means something — not just for the people that walk in, but on a bigger scale."