Gastronomic 'Oscars' season kicks off with semifinalists

After reviewing a record 28,000 entries online this year, judges for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards - also known widely as the 'Oscars' of the American food world - have trimmed the fat and announced the restaurant and chef semifinalists for 2011.

Among the nominees announced Thursday for Outstanding Chef are a few usual suspects, like high-profile Food Network TV host Michael Symon and Michelin-star chef Michael Mina.

Nominees vie for the ultimate in culinary recoginition in 19 categories ranging from Outstanding Chef (won last year by Tom Colicchio of Craft restaurant in New York City), Restaurant and Wine and Spirits Professional in 10 different regions throughout the US.

Symon is already a James Beard award recipient, having been named the Best Chef for the Great Lakes area in 2009. His Cleveland restaurant Lola was also listed as one of "America's Best Restaurants" by Gourmet magazine. But he's perhaps best known by American audiences for being a ubiquitous presence on the Food Network, where he hosts shows like Food Feuds and Cook Like an Iron Chef.

Mina is a stalwart in the restaurant business, having opened 18 concept restaurants under the Mina Group which he leads with partner and tennis champion Andre Agassi. After earning a Michelin star for his San Francisco restaurant Michael Mina, the Egyptian-born chef duplicated the award-winning recipe and earned another star for his Las Vegas location of the same name.

José Andrés is another familiar face among TV audiences for his series Made in Spain and his many guest appearances on cooking shows and competitions. Andrés owns several Latino restaurants, but is being recognized for minibar, in Washington DC, a six-seat restaurant with a wildly inventive menu that fuses science with food.

Semifinalists for Best New Restaurant represent Italian, French and fusion cuisines.

Nominees and winners of the James Beard Foundation Awards are often catapulted to celebrity fame after being singled out by the non-profit organization based in New York.

Finalists will be announced March 21 and the reception will take place Monday, May 9 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. You can follow the nominations on their Twitter page,

The S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards will also be announced in the spring and is set to take place April 18 in London. None of the James Beard semifinalists were among the US restaurants shortlisted in the World's 50 Best restaurants for 2010.