CT chefs, restaurant nominated for 2023 James Beard awards

CT chefs, restaurant nominated for 2023 James Beard awards


The Connecticut culinary industry is making waves in the national food scene, with two chefs and a top Peruvian restaurant nominated for James Beard Foundation awards. The James Beard Awards, known as one of the most prestigious honors in the culinary industry, recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.

Christian Hunter of Community Table in Washington and Renee Touponce of Oyster Club and the Port of Call in Mystic were nominated as semifinalists for the Best Chef: Northeast award, and Coracora of West Hartford was nominated as a semifinalist for a second consecutive year in the Outstanding Restaurant category.

Hunter, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, has cooked at Relais & Châteaux’s Lake Placid Lodge and The Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island. He credits his time in Charleston, South Carolina, for “all kinds of new ingredients and ideas,” and now enjoys the bounty of farm produce in Litchfield County. “One of the most exciting things about cooking in the northwest corner now is the explosion of small organic farms in the area,” he said in his biography. “Everything we do at [Community Table] is seasonal and almost all our ingredients are locally sourced. It’s an intimate thing, working with farmers. Getting to know them and their culture really informs how I feel about the food I make.”

Touponce is the executive chef of Mystic’s Oyster Club restaurant and The Port of Call, a cocktail bar next door to the Water Street restaurant. She joined the 85th Day Food Community restaurant group in 2017, earning the executive role in 2021. “With her inventive, locally-sourced, sustainable cuisine, she pays homage to the rich, coastal heritage of Southern New England, investigating the ingredients of her region of Mystic and surrounding communities while inventing and recreating the flavors of her youth with products she has access to,” her biography page notes.

Coracora’s 2023 nomination comes one year after the restaurant was honored by the Beard Foundation for the first time, along with a nomination for head chef Macarena Ludena in the Best Chef: Northeast category. Ludena’s parents, Hector Ludena and Luisa Jimenez, opened the restaurant in 2011 and it’s been a staple for Peruvian cuisine in West Hartford ever since.

“We are incredibly honored to be nominated as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant for the second consecutive year,” said owner Grecia Ludena in a statement Wednesday. “As the only Peruvian restaurant and the sole CT restaurant, we are grateful to the James Beard Foundation to include us in such talented company.”

“We put so much love, care and Peruvian culture into everything we do – from our from-scratch dishes, to the service we provide, the cocktails we create, and the quality of ingredients we select – that the acknowledgement is beyond exciting for the entire Coracora team – a team without whom this would not have been possible,” said Macarena Ludena.

Nominees will be announced on March 29, and winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony on June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The Connecticut culinary industry is growing and thriving, and the James Beard nominations are a testament to the hard work and dedication of the chefs and restaurateurs in the state. Congratulations to Christian Hunter, Renee Touponce, and Coracora on their nominations, and best of luck to all the nominees!

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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