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Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Service.

Last month seven Metro Detroit chefs and restaurants were listed as semifinalists for the prestigious awards. The Ann Arbor deli is the only one of those semifinalists chosen to advance as a final nominee.

Founded in 1982 – 36 years to the day on Thursday, in fact – the specialty food store is up against Boka restaurant in Chicago, Zahav in Philadelphia and Saison and Zuni Cafe, both in San Francisco.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw. “We have three bottom lines: great food, great service and great finance, and we measure ourselves in all three. To be recognized for service is just extremely rewarding and we’re very excited and we’re humbled and we’re honored.”

Saginaw points out their accolade shows that a food business need not be a traditional “tipped establishment” to have a high level of service worthy of an award.

“I think that my co-workers are motivated by working in an open-book environment where everybody is invited to come in and help make the decisions that run the business ... that’s a great motivator.”

Zingerman’s, which got a visit from President Barack Obama in 2014, is on the Foundation’s radar. Zingerman’s Roadhouse’s former chef Alex Young won the Best Chef: Great Lakes award in 2011, and Zingerman’s Deli co-founder Ari Weinzweig was named the winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in American in 2006.

Considered the Oscars of the restaurant world, the James Beard Foundation has started to pay more attention to Metro Detroit’s newer restaurants and chefs over the past few years, but our culinary craftsmen haven’t broken through recently in any of the stronger categories like Best Chef.

As usual, the Best Chef: Great Lakes category was swept by Chicago chefs. Thomas Lents of Chef’s Table at Apparatus Room inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel and James Rigato of Hazel Park’s Mabel Gray were listed as semifinalists. I had high hopes for Lents, considering he’s been a nominee in the past, and he just came to Detroit recently from Chicago’s Michelin-starred Sixteen restaurant.

The Great Lakes category – one of 10 regions for this honor – considers chefs from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Some have said that because of its dominance over this region that Chicago should have its own category, as New York City does.

Where is the fun in that? Detroit’s restaurant scene at the level that we know it now is still very young. I say, give our chefs and restaurants a high bar to reach. If we beat Cleveland and Cincinnati, that’s cool (restaurants in those cities were edged out by Chicago as well), but does that move the needle at all?

Rigato said if Chicago was moved to its own category, then when Detroit does beat the Windy City that “victory is less sweet.”

“I think I get fatigued of Chicago continually kicking our ass, but at the same time we’re better because of Chicago,” he said earlier this week, adding that Detroit should want to be the Rocky Balboa to Chicago’s Creed.

“I’m OK to losing to these guys,” he said. “It’s an honor to be on that list.”

Like Katoi the year before, Corktown’s Lady of the House was the only Michigan restaurant named as one of the 28 Best New Restaurant semifinalists. Only coastal restaurants from California, New York and Seattle made the cut to final nominees this year.

Lena Sareini of Selden Standard was a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year Awards, and Sister Pie’s Lisa Ludwinski was on the semifinal list for Outstanding Baker for the second year.

Standby cocktail lounge in Detroit also got their second semifinalist wink two years in a row for Outstanding Bar Program.

Metro Detroit chefs have been recognized by JBF in the past. Jimmy Schmit – chef at the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit at the time – took home the 1993 James Beard Award for Best Chefs in America. Takashi Yagihashi of now-closed Tribute in Farmington Hills won Best Chef Midwest in 2003.

The 2018 award semifinalists, announced in February, were chosen from a pool of 20,000 online entries by judges, committee members and previous winners.

The semifinalists were narrowed down to final nominees by a panel of 600 regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past winners. Final winners are announced at the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala May 7 at the Lyric Opera in – guess where? – Chicago.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

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