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Two Salt Lake Lake City chefs progress to James Beard finals

Urban Hill - chef Nick Zocco at work

News released this morning nudges two Utah chefs that bit closer to securing a momentous award – namely – best chef in the James Beard Award’s “mountain” region; the judging zone which encompasses Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and good old Utah. The two Beehive chefs join a trio more to make up 40% of the list this year. The complete list reads as follows:

  • Brandon Cunningham, Social Haus, Greenough, MT
  • Ali Sabbah, Mazza Cafe, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Matt Vawter, Rootstalk, Breckenridge, CO
  • Penelope Wong, Yuan Wonton, Denver, CO
  • Nick Zocco, Urban Hill, Salt Lake City, UT

The recognition for Zocco (pictured top, working the line at Urban Hill) is the latest hat tip for the talented toque. Earlier this year, Urban Hill was declared Utah’s outstanding restaurant of the year by the Salt Lake Magazine; Zocco being a key component of that success. Check out my initial preview of the restaurant here and a follow-up on their weekend brunch service here.

For Sabbah, this makes two years in a row, the chef making a similar cut last year. Sabbah’s Levantine-styled menu has been routinely recognized for its attention to detail, not least the consistent quality of execution. In a  SL Mag interview last year, he confirmed, “We are not here to cut corners,” he says explaining that many other restaurants use pre-made shortcuts and frozen supplies. “We make our food, every day from scratch. I slice the lamb myself. In doing so we show respect for the dishes the tradition.”

The final winners will be announced at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on Monday, June 10 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Stay tuned.

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