In the first year the prestigious James Beard Awards have singled out the Lone Star State as its own category, San Antonio’s Steve McHugh of Cured at the Pearl has been named a finalist for Best Chef: Texas.

The nomination marks McHugh’s fifth year as a finalist. Before now, Texas had been lumped into the Best Chef: Southwest category.

Twenty Texas chefs were named in February as semifinalists for the award, including Esaul Ramos of the Southeast Side barbecue restaurant 2M Smokehouse, and Alex Paredes of the South Side taquería Carnitas Lonja. The winners will be announced Sept. 25, later in the year than usual because of the coronavirus.

In an email, McHugh called the recognition of Texas chefs a “bright spot, particularly amongst such uncertainty” and “an important reminder of the unity and hope that food can inspire — now, more than ever.”

Ramos, a San Antonio native who started 2M with his childhood friend Joe Melig in 2016, remained upbeat despite missing out on the next round. “Just being a James Beard nominee is amazing in itself,” he said. “It keeps us motivated to keep pushing it further.”

For Paredes, whose South Side taquería thundered onto the scene in 2017 and was quickly named one of Esquire magazine’s top new restaurants in the country, the semifinalist nomination gave him something to shoot for.

“I still have a lot more to give in order for me to feel like one of the best,” he said. “It feels great getting recognized for the super hard work that we do every day.”

The other Texas finalists are Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye in Austin, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie in Austin, Anita Jaisinghani of Pondicheri in Houston and Trong Nguyen of Crawfish & Noodles in Houston.

San Antonio has come close to winning a James Beard Award several times in the past, but has yet to claim the big prize. Besides McHugh, chef finalists have included Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks and Andrew Weissman of Le Rêve and Il Sogno Osteria fame. Other San Antonio finalists have included cookbook writers Melissa Guerra and Terry Thompson-Anderson.

Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Mike, . | Instagram: