Texas chefs have strong showing at James Beard Awards in recent years

Need to find your new go-to Mexican food spot? Taco journalist Mando Rayo has you covered as he talks about this year’s nominees.

By Kristen CabreraApril 4, 2024 11:30 am,

The James Beard Awards recognize talent and achievement in culinary arts and hospitality. The awards are presented to chefs, restaurants, authors, and journalists.

Host of the Tacos of Texas podcast and 2022 nominee Mando Rayo joined Texas Standard to talk about this year’s semi-finalists who are serving Mexican cuisine. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk about what makes these awards so important in the first place.

Mando Rayo: You know, to be honest, it’s a national recognition. They’re known as the Oscars of the food world. And I think whether you are in the food industry, you run a restaurant, a small mom and pop shop, or a trailer or fine dining, that’s kind of the ultimate recognition that you can get.

It goes beyond just the recognition, though, because if you can say that you were a James Beard Award winner, well, I mean, face it, that’s going to mean something for the bottom line.

Oh that’s right. You know, with that comes the lines – you want those lines, but you also want investment in maybe your restaurant and opportunities.

That’s kind of like the benefits of even being nominated. There are so many doors that can open for you when you have this kind of recognition now.

Tell us a little bit about this Best New Restaurant finalist you spoke with. 

We went out to Houston and talked to Emmanuel Chavez, founder of Tatemó. He actually started as a dishwasher. His family worked at Tex-Mex restaurants, but now he opened up a 14-seat small restaurant space that really focused on organic corn and the nixtamalization process.

And what he’s been able to do with his small team is, you know, started out at the farmers market just selling the corn and the masa and now having a fine dining experience and being nominated.

Mando Rayo (in clip): You got the attention of James Beard. What does that mean for you?

Emmanuel Chavez: Validation. Validation for the team, validation for the community. Validation for our peers. For culture.

People are starting to see Mexican cuisine as something serious. It’s no longer something cheap, inexpensive, or fast. It’s something that deserves attention, recognition. And a lot of money, right? Because you got money behind it.

People are growing. People are harvesting. Shipping. It’s about time we put that back into our soil, into our communities.

Now, you also spoke with a semifinalist who told you these awards have become more important after James Beard took a brief hiatus. Who’s that? And why do they say that?

Mando Rayo: If you don’t know, Comadre Panadería here in Austin, Texas, you’re missing out.

So Mariela Camacho is actually originally from San Antonio, and she grew up with pan dulce – the conchas to pink cake – but infusing kind of more of the organic and indigenous recipes. She’s infusing that into that as well. 

Mariela Camacho (in clip): I think, especially since, like, the foundation took a break, I think they took a year off. Maybe they did because they got called out. And so I feel like they’ve come back with some pretty respectable values.

Honestly, it feels more important now because I feel like they are acknowledging and honoring people who are changing the game or have changed the game for years already.

So just like knowing now that there are some really wonderful food makers and writers and just like people that are being recognized, for me, it makes it more important because it makes it more valuable, more valid.

Well, the finalists list for 2024 just came out. I know Emmanuel Chavez of Houston is on it again. Any chefs or restaurants on the 2024 finalist list that caught your eye?

Mando Rayo: Yeah, they just came out, and I’m super excited about them, actually. Barbs-B-Q out in Lockhart to Ramen Del Barrio, which is infusing the Mexican and Japanese. I mean, if you haven’t had menudo ramen, you’re missing out.

That sounds good.

Yeah. But then you have, like Victoria Elizondo over at Cochinita & Co. out of Houston. You got to try her chilaquiles rojos. And then in Austin, you have Joseph Gomez with Con Todo. Their mollejas, or sweet breads, are to die for.