TRAVERSE CITY — There’s no comparison between summer-ripened tomatoes fresh from the garden and those pallid pink pucks labeled “tomato” on February’s supermarket shelves.
But celery? Chomp into a stalk of local celery in season, and its flavorful “punch” will change how you feel about celery forever, said Myles Anton, executive chef at Trattoria Stella.
It’s no contest — Anton’s style of fork-to-table, “fresh is best” inventive Italian cooking keeps him in the running for food’s most coveted honors. Anton racked up another James Beard Foundation semifinalist nomination for 2014 Best Chef — Great Lakes — his fourth in five years. This year’s five finalists will be announced March 18. Winners are announced in a New York City gala event May 5.
The James Beard Foundation gala is the high-integrity equivalent of the Oscars of cooking, Anton said, complete with envelopes and people jumping out of their seats.
The James Beard Foundation Awards began in 1990 as a way to recognize the best in all aspects of the food industry. They commemorate television icon and food writer James Beard who popularized gourmet cooking at home in the 1950s. The Foundation received 38,000 entries this year for regional and categorical awards. A national panel of 600 food writers and past winners pare down the entries and pick the finalists and winners.
Has Anton ever made it to the finalist round? Not yet.
“I’m wondering if I’ll ever break through to that next level,” he joked.
It doesn’t matter.
Being a four-time bridesmaid is good enough, Anton said.
This year, he is ranked with his “mentor and idol,” Brian Polcyn of the Forest Grill in Birmingham. He met Polcyn at “Pigstock” where Polcyn helped Anton cultivate his passion for using the whole animal in his cooking. The whole animal — nose to tail.