Denver chef and restaurateur Alex Seidel on Monday finally took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. Seidel had previously been nominated every year for the past decade as either a semifinalist or finalist in these “Oscars of the food world,” considered one of the highest honors in the national restaurant community. Accepting one of nine regional awards given at a gala in Chicago, Seidel was in the company of great American chefs such as Dominique Crenn, Edouardo Jordan, and Nina Compton, among others.
This year Seidel won for his work at Mercantile Dining & Provision, the 2-year-old restaurant and market at Union Station. He was a semifinalist last year for the same award, and in 2016, he was a nominee for his work at Fruition, his 11-year-old Denver farm-to-table restaurant. He also runs a 10-acre farm and creamery in Larkspur to supply the restaurants.
Seidel became emotional as he delivered his acceptance speech, thanking his wife and “rock,” Melissa Seidel, and calling out his restaurants’ two chefs de cuisine, Franco Ruiz and Matt Vawter. The latter, he said, had to leave Chicago early Monday morning and return to Denver “to go have a baby boy.” He mentioned having his own son a few months prior to opening his first restaurant, Fruition.
The chef was the only Colorado award-winner on Monday, though Frasca Food and Wine and The Little Nell were also nominated for Outstanding Restaurant and Outstanding Wine Program, respectively. Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja restaurant was the last Denver winner for Best Chef: Southwest, in 2013. And there was one other Colorado mention in the 2018 James Beard Awards: Julia O’Malley was previously honored in the media category for her story “The Teenage Whaler’s Tale,” which appeared in High Country News.
Seidel is pictured below (right) on the red carpet, and his speech from the awards ceremony is transcribed after it.
“I got into this restaurant business at age 14, almost 30 years ago, and I remember walking into the kitchen — Lazer 103 was playing, free soda — and it was, it was like an instant family. And I’ve loved it ever since. So to be here tonight, with this family, I’m truly honored. I want to thank my beautiful wife, Melissa; she had our first son Jack a couple months before I opened Fruition, and she’s been my rock and support ever since. She’s allowed me to do what I love, so thank you, babe.
“Also, I have someone who’s not here tonight. This is just as much for him: Matt Vawter, my chef de cuisine. He actually left last night, or this morning, on the 6 a.m. red-eye to go have a baby boy today. So congrats Matt and Christy. Also to my chef de cuisine at Fruition, Frank, Franco [Ruiz], and all the teams at Fruition, Mercantile, the farm [Fruition Farms Creamery], and Füdmill. Wow. It’s an amazing team to work with every single day. They push me unbelievably, and thank you so much.”—Alex Seidel at the 2018 James Beard Awards