The talents behind Pistacia Vera and Ray Ray's earn national recognition.

The James Beard Foundation announced its 2020 Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists today, and two Columbus chefs made the cut, ending an eight-year drought. Pit barbecue purist James Anderson, owner of the food truck Ray Ray's Hog Pit, was named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes. (The Great Lakes region includes chefs from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.) Meanwhile, Spencer Budros, co-owner of Pistacia Vera, was nominated for Outstanding Baker. He was the only Ohio pastry chef nominated.

The last time Columbus chefs were in contention for the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards was 2012, when chefs Richard Blondin and Kent Rigsby were named semifinalists. (Cara Mangini’s cookbook, “The Vegetable Butcher,” was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Book Awards in 2017.) This year is the 30th anniversary of the James Beard Awards, the country’s most coveted awards for chefs, restaurants, authors and other food and beverage industry leaders. The finalists will be announced on March 25. 

A Columbus native, Budros spent more than 10 years working as a pastry chef in Scottsdale, Arizona, before opening a patisserie with his sister, Anne Fletcher, in 2004. The pair later relocated the bakery from the Short North to German Village in 2007, renaming the venture Pistacia Vera. The café/bakery has since become a Columbus institution, specializing in French macarons, croissants, quiche and European-style desserts.

Anderson, a 2016 Columbus Monthly Tastemaker, launched a mobile food cart in 2009, which eventually morphed into Ray Ray’s permanent food truck at Ace of Cups in the Old North. Specializing in pork ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork, Ray Ray’s now has three locations, including a truck parked at Land-Grant Brewing Co. in Franklinton and a walk-up window and drive-thru at 5755 Maxtown Road in Westerville. Anderson and his wife, Jess, also own Anderson Farm, a heritage breed hog farm, in Licking County.

This year, the James Beard Foundation made changes aimed at improving the geographic diversity among its nominees, adding Best Chef: Texas and Best Chef: California categories. But the Great Lakes region remained unchanged, meaning Anderson is pitted against Chicago nominees, which swept the region’s finalist spots last year. Of the 20 Great Lakes chefs just announced, half are from Chicago, most represent high-end dining and none, other than Anderson, create their magic with a food truck and smoker.

See the full list of 2020 James Beard semifinalists here.