The James Beard Foundation unveiled the first round of nominees today for its annual awards. PDX contenders in national categories include Higgins Restaurant and Bar for Outstanding Restaurant, Le Pigeon’s Gabe Rucker and Castagna’s Matt Lightner as Rising Star Chefs, and Ping as Best New Restaurant. For the first time in a few years, Portland dominates Seattle in the Best Chef Northwest category with seven of all 20 spots. Nominees include Nostrana’s Cathy Whims, Gabe Rucker, Autentica’s Oswaldo Bibiano, Toro Bravo’s John Gorham, Beast’s Naomi Pomeroy, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, and Jenn Lewis of Lincoln. Here’s the full list.

I have to admit I’m a bit surprised by a couple of these entries considering the number of talented chefs and restaurants in Portland who didn’t make the cut. That said, I generally agree with the selections. Cathy Whims is long overdue to win top Northwest honors. Whims is as good as any chef in Portland, and has been cooking for more than three decades at Nostrana and at the legendary Genoa. Andy Ricker is another deserving candidate in the Best Chef Northwest category. Though Pok Pok Enterprises Inc. is slowly taking over Division Street and its bisecting avenues in the low-thirties, this is for good reason. Pok Pok is amazing. It’s the first place I take out-of-town visitors, and I don’t mind waiting an hour to get in—especially now that Ricker and business partner Kurt Huffman have built their own waiting room/watering hole at the Whiskey Soda Lounge directly across the street.

The short list of nominees will be announced on the 22nd of March, and the entries on this forthcoming roster will represent the finalists—those chefs and restauranteurs who’ll journey to New York for the ceremonies. I also learned today that Clyde Common Chef De Cuisine Chris DeMinno has been asked by his former boss Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farms to help prepare food for the gala.

Congrats to Portland Chefs. Way to represent us.