Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards. Eater is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to livestream the awards in 2023.
Today the James Beard Foundation announced its list of 2023 finalists, naming Minnesota pastry chef Shawn McKenzie of Café Cerés in the outstanding pastry chef or baker category.
This is McKenzie’s first James Beard nomination. Executive pastry chef of both Café Cerés and Rustica Bakery, McKenzie spent her early Twin Cities years running the pastry programs at chef Isaac Becker’s restaurants (Bar La Grassa, 112 Eatery, and Burch Steak & Pizza), before moving to Penny’s Coffee in Linden Hills. When Penny’s closed during the pandemic, McKenzie partnered with chef Danny del Prado to open Café Cerés. It’s since expanded to two other locations in Armatage and downtown Minneapolis.
McKenzie’s graceful desserts have made their mark on menus across the Cities, from her unrivaled baba au rhum at Burch to Rustica’s delicately sweet roasted banana tart. But Café Cerés has always been McKenzie’s canvas for exploring Turkish flavors. Her chocolate zephyr cookies, made with rye flour, are among the Twin Cities' finest; her pistachio croissants strike a perfect balance of airiness and nuttiness; and her pillowy Turkish bagels — a.k.a. simit — are lovely with a cool smear of labneh and za’atar.
Besides McKenzie's nomination, the Twin Cities were shut out of the James Beard Awards. There were no local nominees in the best chef Midwest category, though four chefs — Ann Ahmed (Khâluna), Christina Nguyen (Hai Hai), Karyn Tomlinson (Myriel), and Yia Vang (Union Hmong Kitchen) — made the semifinalist list. (Chefs from Madison, Milwaukee, Sioux Falls, and Omaha were honored.)
This is exceedingly rare: According to the Star Tribune, it’s the first time it’s happened in 20 years. Though Nguyen, Tomlinson, and Vang had all received Beard nods in previous years, it was a first for Ahmed, who recently opened Khâluna, one of Eater’s best new restaurants of 2022. It’s a fair bet, though, that this won’t be Ahmed’s last recognition from the Beard Foundation — with her restaurant Gai Noi in the works, she’s one of the Twin Cities’ most exciting chefs of the moment, continuing to push the metro’s already superb Southeast Asian cuisine into new territory.
Last year, Twin Cities chefs Yia Vang, Sean Sherman, and Jorge Guzmán were all James Beard finalists in the best chef Midwest category, and Owamni, named a finalist for best new restaurant, went on to win in that category, marking a huge triumph for Indigenous cuisine and traditional foodways on the national level.
The 2023 James Beard Award winners will be announced on Monday, June 5, during a ceremony in Chicago. Find the full list of nominees here.