The James Beard Foundation 2022 awards season drew to a close tonight, June 13, at a ceremony in Chicago, where a slate of restaurant and chef winners received honors for excellence in a variety of categories, from emerging chef to outstanding bar program. (The foundation announced its 2022 media award winners — cookbooks, columns, and more — two days prior.)
This particular incarnation of the awards has been a long time coming, with the foundation taking a pause in 2020 and 2021. The pandemic break gave the organization time to conduct internal and external reviews of its procedures and policies with the goal of making the awards more equitable and accessible.
On a local level, the changes did seem to result in a lot of new Greater Boston and New England names popping up on the semifinalist and finalist lists this year; Portland, Maine, made a particularly good showing in the early rounds. Closer to home, the finalist list included Somerville’s Rebel Rebel, nominated in the category Outstanding Wine Program, and Tiffani Faison (Orfano and more), nominated in the category Best Chef: Northeast.
Only a handful of locals ended up receiving awards this year, though; New England was largely skipped. Here are the two winners from New England for the 2022 James Beard Foundation restaurant and chef awards.
Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT)
Nisachon Morgan, Saap (Randolph, Vermont)
Saap chef and co-owner Nisachon (Rung) Morgan hails from a small rural village in northern Thailand’s Isan region and features its cuisine at her Vermont restaurant; think sai krok, pork sausage with lemongrass, dill, chile, and garlic; khanom jeen nam ngiao, a spicy noodle soup; and laap, a flavor-packed salad of minced chicken or pork with toasted rice powder and lime. On tap, a concise list of mostly Vermont beers. Heading up from Boston? It’s about 150 miles north — a bit less than three hours by car.
Irene Li, cofounder of Mei Mei, Prepshift, and Project Restore Us
This award was announced back in March, honoring “five visionaries for their work in creating a better food world,” as the foundation described it. Boston’s own Irene Li is one of the five, thanks to her work “driving the industry forward through sustainable, ethical sourcing of ingredients and fair and progressive employment practices.” (Here’s an Eater feature on Li from 2016 highlighting some of her views on local sourcing, and here’s a 2020 piece offering a transparent look at running a business. Li has been one of Boston’s early and vocal supporters of open-book restaurant management, giving employees at all levels total access to — and input into — the business’s financial information.) During the pandemic, Mei Mei shifted away from restaurant service and is primarily a dumpling company.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.