Austin chefs shut out at James Beard Awards, as RGV taqueria owner takes Texas crown

Matthew Odam
Austin American-Statesman
Birdie's chef-owner Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel (seen here with husband and co-owner Arjav Ezekiel) was a finalist for Best Chef: Texas at the James Beard Awards.

The odds were not in the favor of Central Texas chefs Monday night at the James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago. Only one Austin chef, Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel of Birdie's, along with a team of women who own Barbs B Q in Lockhart, made it to the ceremony as finalists.

They all went home empty handed. Ana Liz Pulido took home the title of Best Chef: Texas for her work at her eponymous taqueria, Ana Liz Taqueria, in the Rio Grade Valley town of Mission. , documenting how Pulido got her start as a teenager in the Valley operating an elotes cart.

This marked the third consecutive year that a woman chef of color has taken home the Beard prize for Best Chef in Texas, which has only been handed out three times. Austin's Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo won in 2022, and Benchawan Jabthong Painter of Houston Thai restaurant Street to Kitchen won last year. Prior to 2021, Texas chefs competed in the Best Chef: Southwest category. The awards were not given out in 2020 or 2021.

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Barbs B Q, owned and operated by (from left) Chuck Charnichart, Haley Conlin and Alexis Tovías Morales, was named a finalist for Best New Restaurant.

Barbs faced competition from around the country in a Best New Restaurant category populated with 9 other restaurants. Senegalese chef  took home the prize. Mbaye was a recent attendee at Aaron Franklin's Hot Luck festival, and created one of the fest's memorable bites, as did Valerie Chang of Maty's in Miami. Chang was also a winner Monday night, taking home the honor of Best Chef: South.

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In other Texas-related Beard news, exceptional tasting menu Mixtli, which explores the history and various geographic cuisines of Mexico, was a finalist in the prestigious Outstanding Restaurant in the nation category. That honor went to Langbaan in Portland, Ore.