It’s that time of year again.

No, I’m not talking about graduation or summer vacation, or even the start of spring. Although these are important, I’m talking about the Oscars of the Food World! The James Beard Awards.

For those who don’t know, these annual awards recognize the top culinary professionals in the US each May. They were established in 1990 and are voted on by hundreds of culinary professionals, including previous winners. There are more than a dozen categories; Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Best New Restaurant, Best Chefs (regional winners), Outstanding Wine Program, and even a Rising Star Chef of the Year.

What I want to talk about today, though, is the baker and pastry chef winners. Those who produce glorious, flaky, grainy deliciousness of all kinds.

Kelly Fields: Willa Jean, New Orleans

Willa Jean, New Orleans
Photo Courtesy: Willa Jean, New Orleans

Let’s start out with the Outstanding Pastry Chef. Kelly Fields from Willa Jean in New Orleans took home the award this year. This place is a restaurant that focuses on Southern Standouts with a modern twist. When I first saw her site, I saw a biscuit and gravy entrée. I’m already sold. Kelly Fields has been nominated for James Beard Awards before, but never took home the grand prize. Without a doubt, she’s deserving of this honor.

Looking at the brunch menu, I’m intrigued by the Griddled Banana Bread and, more excited than an adult should be, about the nostalgia-inducing Monkey Bread option. This girl is speaking my language. While I’m supposed to be looking at all the bakery items, I can’t help but browse the section of the menu called “The Biscuit Situation.” All those toppings for some fluffy biscuits, yes please.

Mmmmm. I’m thinking about my next trip south…

Caramel Crunch King Cake
Caramel Crunch King Cake, Photo Courtesy: Willa Jean, New Orleans

Greg Wade: Publican Quality Bread, Chicago

Next baker up to discover: Greg Wade from Publican Quality Bread in Chicago. What I love about Greg, is that he’s passionate about baking amazing breads. He seeks out local, high-quality, whole grains from a nearby farmer in Illinois. They use honey as a sweetener instead of refined sugar. I mean, I can enjoy a bright colored, sugary pastry any day, but the joy and ecstasy that comes from taking a bite out of a freshly baked loaf of amazing bread – priceless.

What I love about Publican Quality Bread is that you can order bread days in advance, so it’s nice and fresh when you arrive, and you don’t have the frustration of visiting and your favorite bread is out. I wonder if he can ship loaves home for me. I’ll take one focaccia bread, a seeded rye, a Spence wholegrain, and some seed crackers, stat!

PQB is also connected to a restaurant that looks fabulous although I haven’t eaten there. **Grabs phone to add this restaurant to my Samsung Notes List of “Place to Eat.”**


There are so many other bakeries and pastry shops creating amazing concepts throughout the country. Even here in my hometown of Cincinnati, we have some pretty great bakeries. One that deserves awards and accolades far and wide is Brown Bear Bakery. I had heard of their cinnamon rolls for quite some time before I indulged.

And it was. Life. Changing.

The sprinkle of orange zest on the top of the ooey gooey roll was fantastic. And we encountered some other unique flavors in their cookies and breads: a lemon poppy hibiscus bread slice, a golden milk cookie (turmeric and some other spices), and even a grapefruit pink peppercorn cookie.

All were to die for and I will be going back. Soon.

Sorry for no picture of the cinnamon roll. Honestly, I ate it before I thought about capturing the goodness!


Did you know Givaudan closely tracks the James Beard Award Winners? In fact, we use computer intelligence to find themes and patterns within their menus, pulling inspiration from commonly paired ingredients to create concepts for your products. We’ve tracked winners back to 2016! This tool helps us to work with you to brainstorm uniquely flavorful, original, and delicious creations. Reach out to your account manager or noam.marketing@givaudan.com to see how we may help your product development team brainstorm concepts.

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