Golden chefs advance to Beard semifinals

February 22nd, 2017

By Kimberly Dupps Truesdell | The Journal Gazette

When chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson opened The Golden in the Ash Skyline Plaza in 2016, they had a vision of a restaurant that brought together quality ingredients and creativity to masses.

On their website, it says that “The Golden is fun. The Golden is creative. The Golden is great experiences with friends and family. Be Golden.”

And while they want their diners to be Golden, Butts and Richardson are the ones shining as they have been co-nominated as semifinalists for a James Beard Award.

The nomination, announced Feb. 15, is for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Butts and Richardson are included with 19 other semifinalists, two of whom are from Indiana.

Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth, in Indianapolis, who recently teamed up with Golden for Sunday brunch, and Abbi Merriss of Bluebeard, in Indianapolis, are also competing for the honor.

It’s the second time Butts, who began his career at the age of 16 at Little Caesar’s, has been a semifinalist for this award, the first being in 2011.

He has also cooked at the James Beard House twice and hosted James Beard celebrity chef dinners at Joseph Decuis, where he was executive chef before opening The Golden.

“I was surprised just being that our restaurant is only eight months old,” Butts says. “To get that kind of recognition, that kind of attention was pretty surprising.”

The James Beard Foundation holds an online open call for entries beginning in mid-October. More than 24,000 entries were received for this year’s awards.

The Restaurant and Chef Committee reviews the candidates to determine eligibility and regional representation.

“I think it’s something fresh and new, and it’s definitely unique for this part of Indiana,” Butts says.

“Being a nominee before, maybe the foundation saw something, ... a new spark in my ability. And I think that might have gotten their attention.”

The list of semifinalists is sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from across the country. This panel, which comprises leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award winners, votes on specific award categories to determine the final five nominees in each category, which will be announced March 15.

The same judges then vote on these five nominees to select the winners, who will be honored at a May 1 event in Chicago.

“(The recognition) is good for the culinary scene in Fort Wayne and to give people a little more attention to the area,” Butts says. “We worked really hard these past eight months, and it’s good for the staff to see that their hard work is paying off.

“And it’s just the beginning.”

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