Foodie History: African-American James Beard Nominees from the South

The list we’ve all been waiting for has finally come back around! On February 27, 2019, The James Beard Foundation released their 2019 semifinalists and this year’s competition is thick. Chefs and restaurants from around the country are being recognized for their outstanding culinary skills.

Last year the James Beard Organization decided to make changes to promote the utmost diversity and equality for the 2019 James Beard Awards. On October 15, 2018 new policies went into effect and everyone was excited to see the list grow. >

In celebration of the change, Black Southern Belle wants to congratulate all of this year’s semifinalists and give a special announcement to a few chefs to be on the lookout for. A Few African American James Beard Foundation Award Nominees to Watch:

Foodie History: African-American James Beard Nominees from the South

Best Chef: Southeast

Mashama Bailey, The Grey, Savannah, GA

@ thegreysavannah

@ thegreymkt

Chef Mashama Bailey is a talented and experienced chef, born in the Bronx and representing Savannah, Georgia. This year makes her second James Beard Foundation Award nomination, only letting us know just how amazing she is. Chef Mashama Bailey is the co-owner, alongside Mr. Johno Morisano, of the award winning The Grey ( The Savannah duo first opened the doors to the New York restaurant in 2014. The Grey has since earned the titles like Restaurant of the Year multiple times from our favorites like Eater, Food & Wine, and even Time. By 2018 the pair went on to open The Grey Market only a few blocks from their already successful restaurant. Mashama has brought the southern roots to New York counters and the people are loving it.

Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” featured Chef Mashama Bailey on Season 6, Episode 1. The episode gave her the opportunity to share her unique story and rise to one of the nation’s best chefs. Bailey recounted her Southern upbringing and the path that lead her to meeting her now business partner, Johno Morisano. Chef Mashama Bailey is proving herself to be a force on the food chain. Next time you are in New York, make sure you try her menu over at The Grey!

“African-American history in this area is so rich. These traditions and food, it’s about the storytelling and preserving heritage. Whenever you get a bunch of people at a table, you learn about the people at that table. The young folks learn about their elders, they learn about their culture, and listen to stories about the past. I feel this responsibility to educate people through my cooking. That’s the part of Savannah that I want to share.”

Bryan Furman, B’s Cracklin’ BBQ, Atlanta, GA



Chef Bryan Furman is a resilient and unique BBQ pit master also hailing from Savannah, GA. Chef Bryan opened his first restaurant in 2014 with his business partner and wife, Nikki, in his hometown. From the time B‘s Cracklin’ BBQ (

) opened their doors, the restaurant was a success. His unique style of barbequing quickly caught the attention of Savannah locals, but it was the opening of the Atlanta location that caught everyone else’s eye.

Chef Bryan chose to differentiate himself from the competition by raising his own local Heritage hogs and use locally-sourced, fresh produce. Thanks to challenge from his father and support of his family, B’s Cracklin’ BBQ is a nationally known BBQ favorite. Bon Appetit describes Chef Bryan’s cooking in the most mouthwatering fashion. According to a 2018 article, it is undecided of what exactly makes his BBQ so bodacious from his personally bred pigs to “his unique Carolina-meets-Georgia style sauce, a sweet and tangy blend of mustard and fresh peaches”. Bon Appetit along with many other platforms have ranked Chef Bryan’s BBQ one of, if not the best in Georgia.

Bryan has continuously shared his story of humble beginnings. Starting as a “far-fetched” idea of quitting his day job and becoming a chef and even better a business owner. Chef Bryan Furman grew his operation to two locations, Savannah and Atlanta, GA. Even after the tragic 2015 fire at the Savannah location, the BBQ brand recovered and even expanded. Unfortunately, this tragedy has stricken B’s Cracklin’ BBQ just a few short days ago. March 6, 2019 B’s Cracklin’ BBQ- Atlanta was burned in an overnight fire. Chef Bryan and Nikki Furman have announced that they will reopen the location and continue to strive in the BBQ business despite the recent setback. Chef Bryan is proving himself to be an unbreakable force in the food business. We wish him all the luck with re-building the Atlanta location and want to keep encouraging him to push further.

Gregory Collier, Loft & Cellar, Charlotte, NC


Memphis, Tennessee native, Greg Collier, has gained recognition for bringing his amazing culinary skills to the Carolinas. Chef Gregory Collier is the Executive chef and owner of Loft & Cellar ( ) located in Charlotte, where he and his wife/business partner, Subrina, chose to relocate. Chef Gregory Collier started his cooking career off in Memphis but, he eventually moved to Phoenix, AZ be trained at the Scottsdale Community College Culinary Program. From there he and his wife chose to pursue culinary passions in the Carolinas. Greg has been the successful owner and Executive chef at more than one restaurant, including the South Carolina success, The Yolk. (

Chef Greg has become an honorary Charlotte native since the 2012 move from Arizona. He was given the 2018 Charlotteans of the Year Award along with his wife. His restaurants have also been awarded titles such as the 2018 Best Breakfast Award and made the 50 Best Restaurants in Charlotte (No. 37). This year, Chef Greg has expanded his reputation beyond Charlotte with is first James Beard nomination.

Loft & Cellar taken over by Chef Gregory in July of 2017, bringing his southern roots to his new position as Executive chef and owner of the upscale restaurant. Loft & Cellar is recreating the image of southern dining. The reservation only style restaurant is very popular with locals and looks like it is sure to become one of America’s favorites. I can’t wait to try it! Check out his eccentric Winter menu here>>

Jonathan “Jonny” Rhodes, Restaurant Indigo, Houston, TX

@ restaurant_indigohtx

Chef Jonathan ”Jonny” Rhodes is a native Houstonian and owner of Indigo, where the neo-soul food is served with a side of history. Born and raised on the Northside of Houston, Jonathan left after high school to join the Marines and as he told the Houston Chronicle, “get out of the ghetto”. After leaving the marines in 2013, he found himself going against his instincts and joining the culinary tract. In 2017, Chef Jonny opened a 13 seat neo-soul food restaurant named Indigo. (Keeping the history lesson going!)

Chef Jonny began his culinary career in culinary school at the Art Institute of Houston. He rose through Houston’s kitchen to become one of this year’s Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalists, including a job in the prep kitchen at Oxheart. His wife, Chana, Chef Jonny began idea for cooking with a historical purpose in 2016 with a pop-up series called the “Jensen Chronicles” dedicated to his childhood on Jenson Drive. He used ingredients that were said to be staples in the African-American diet. Chef Jonny kept this unique concept and enthusiasm going into his intimate restaurant a year later. Indigo has been called “one of the most unique dining experiences in Texas,” by the Houston Chronicle.

“My struggles were different than others. Mine were based on being the only black person in the kitchens where I worked and not having the tastebuds for the foods we were working with,” he said. “My tastebuds were foods of poverty. I wanted to tell my story and my experience.”

Congratulations to all the 2019 James Beard Award semifinalists! We wish everyone luck and growth in the future. The winners will be announced on Wednesday, March 27.


Cadigan, Hilary. “The Unmistakable Bryan Furman, Georgia’s New King of Barbecue.” Bon Appétit, Bon Appétit, 25 June 2018,

INAMINE , ELYSE. “5 Things You Need to Know About Kwame Onwuachi’s New DC Restaurant.” Food & Wine,

Morabito, Greg. “’Chef’s Table’ Recap: Mashama Bailey Tells a Fresh Story About the South.” Eater, Eater, 1 Mar. 2019,

Morago, Greg. “Restaurant Indigo Serves up Neo-Soul Food with a Side of History.”, Houston Chronicle, 4 Mar. 2019,




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