Kevin Binkley Stiffed at James Beard Awards

KevinBinkley.jpg
Kevin Binkley's a gracious loser, but some of us are mad.

This just in: Valley chef Kevin Binkley -- the guy pretty much everyone agrees owns the best restaurant in Arizona -- did not win the 2012 James Beard Best Chef Southwest award this year. Instead, the honors went to Paul Qui, executive chef of Uchiko in Austin, Texas.

Last year, the category tied. Qui's boss, Tyson Cole, split the Best Chef Southwest award for Uchi (which opened in Austin in 2003 with Cole as executive chef and co-owner) with Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.

Word is, Cole wasn't particularly gracious about sharing the riches during his acceptance speech.

So why didn't Binkley win -- or even split -- this year?

Hard to say. Some people think the Beards are a popularity contest, and if that's the case, the winner makes sense: Uchiko (which opened in 2010) and parent restaurant Uchi have certainly been in the limelight lately. There was quite a buzz in 2011 around Uchi: The Cookbook, which Cole co-wrote with Jessica Dupuy. And there's no doubt that Austin -- as a food town -- is on fire.

Sometimes the hottest new chef with the hottest new place wins, but sometimes the Beards are a bit reminiscent of the Oscars, when the star who's paid his or her dues gets the nod for having an excellent track record.

That's why Kevin Binkley deserves this award. Who else does a series of impossibly clever amuse bouche in one evening? Sources better ingredients? Demands a higher standard of excellence from his staff and himself?

Binkley wrote me in a text just minutes before the award: "It's a long shot. Just great to be here." That's the kind of typically positive stuff he always says. But 1995 James Beard Award winner Christopher Gross thought this was Binkley's year. So did John Mariani of Esquire, who predicted Binkley's win May 2.

This guy's been plugging away since 2004. Where's the love?

Get the rest of the scoop on who won -- and lost -- at the official James Beard site.

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Location Info

Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge

2502 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: Restaurant

Binkley's Restaurant

6920 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, AZ

Category: Restaurant

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15 comments
Bloop
Bloop

Rather than sour grapes, how about some congrats for the Phoenix restaurant that WON a James Beard Award?

2012 James Beard Foundation 
America’s Classics 
The Fry Bread House
4140 North 7th Avenue, Phoenix
Owner: Cecelia Miller

His horn, her mouthpiece
His horn, her mouthpiece

  Look, I'm pretty sure Kevin's comfortable enough in his own culinary skin to accept the Beard House's decision. That Nikki decided to grouse about it was her choice. There's nothing here to suggest that Nikki's written what she has at the behest of the nominee himself. Obviously, she's passionate about Binkley's talents, and rightly so, but for the sake of sparing him any sour-grapes-by-proxy perceptions, this was something she probably should have chewed on with her mouth closed. 

Pete
Pete

Binkley's isn't offering quality?  Perhaps you all picked an odd off night, but Binkley's is terrific and especially at that price point. I can't remember leaving a tasting menu feeling stuffed since I've been there. And the entire experience was entertaining as hell, not knowing what else to expect coming out of the kitchen.  

I ate at another well reviewed place this weekend, paid about the same amount and was instantly less pleased.  I can't judge Binkley's food against another chef I've never tried, but the man deserves at least some credit and maybe some recognition for once.

Eric
Eric

Nikki, have you actually eaten Paul Qui's food, or is this your typical food-writer blather? This local-boy-shoulda-won-damnit type of editorial is a real turn off. New Times, where are your WRITERS?!

Spillsbury
Spillsbury

And what kind of naïveté is this that believes the best gets the award. This is the real world. The only thing that matters is excellence. The rest is luck and politics. And sometimes the best gets recognition. Van Gogh anyone?

Harold
Harold

Binkley's just isn't offering the quality that should be offered at the price range. It's not bad food by any means, but I don't understand this post. Who would even seriously mention an amuse bouche as a serious point of a restaurant's menu?

This post is weird.

Anon
Anon

 Because that place blows, I can eat that slovel at any state fair

Nikki Buchanan
Nikki Buchanan

Hi His Horn, Sam, etal -- I'm dismayed by the angry response to what I consider a rather benign post. I don't feel that I was displaying a sour grapes attitude at all. Do I love Kevin Binkley, admire his integrity and, of course, his food? Without a doubt. Binkley's is one of my favorite local restaurants and one of the places that keeps AZ on the culinary map. Do I wish our local boy had won? Hell yes. Who doesn't root for the home team? I don't doubt Qui's food is exceptional, and after a food writer friend of mine went last year, both Uchi and Uchiko are on my to-do list. In fact, I'm guessing all of the nominees are worthy contenders. But I live here in Phoenix, and I'd like our town/chefs to get a bit more recognition — when they deserve it. Kevin does. End of story.

Wildazz
Wildazz

Eric, I've eaten Paul Qui's food at both Uchiko and Uchi. It's terrific. And I've eaten at Binkley's. It's otherworldly. Not to take away from Qui's accomplishments, Binkley's is just (if not more) deserving. 

His horn, her mouthpiece
His horn, her mouthpiece

Heck, Nikki, if truth be told, I'm just happy you're getting in on the conversation on this site. Since Michele left, the Chow Bella script has been reading like a gastronomic version of Glee. Now, show these aspiring young scribes a thing or two about good food/restaurant writing, will 'ya? 

Eric
Eric

Wildazz, thanks for replying to my mini-rant. What you expressed in just a few short sentences is clearer and more professional than what Ms. Buchanan wrote in her article. You've experienced the food created by both chefs, so you actually have a basis for opinion, and you politely expressed it without sounding bitter or biased. The sour-grapes tone of her article is what prompted my initial comment. 

Nikki Buchanan
Nikki Buchanan

Bravo! You hit it better than I ever could, Frenchie!

Frenchie
Frenchie

As an employee of Kevin Binkley's for nearly 4 years, I can't be unbiased. That said, congrats to Top Chef and now James Beard winner Paul Qui. However, Kevin is not just a good cook. He is a maestro in the kitchen. He genuinely loves to share his ideas and recipes with anyone who asks. He inspires and coaches anyone who has a fraction of his passion for culinary arts and hospitality. He loves pleasing his guests by going the extra mile and is better at it than any chef I've ever seen. I've been honored to work with him (he freely credits the staff he works with, not those who work for him), learn from him, eat his food and drink tequila with him. Arizona is lucky to have him and maybe James Beard will get it right next year.

Nikki Buchanan
Nikki Buchanan

Thanks, His Horn! Sweet of you to say. They're an energetic bunch with a lot of great ideas. Pretty sure I'm in for a good time!

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