Three Milwaukee chefs vying for 'Best Chef' award

For the second year in a row, three Milwaukee chefs are in the running for one of the biggest awards in the restaurant industry.

The James Beard Foundation announced Wednesday that Justin Carlisle of Ardent, Thomas Hauck of c. 1880, and Karen Bell of Bavette la Boucherie are semifinalists in the category Best Chef Midwest.

Carlisle and Hauck have been here before, but this is a first for Bell and her hybrid butcher shop/restaurant concept.

"I didn't even think Bavette would be considered because we're not fine dining and usually you have fine dining in these types of categories," Bell said, surprised to hear her name among the semi-finalists.

The dining room, kitchen and butcher shop at Bavette all share the same space. and are often in action at the same time.

As the restaurant evolves, Bell wants to make sure the focus on butchering sustainably and responsibly contines.

"I never, ever want to give up the butchering part. That's really where my heart lies and that's what the original concept was," she said.

This is Carlisle's third nomination for his restaurant Ardent. In 2014, he was nominated for Best New Restaurant. In the two years since, Ardent was a finalist for Best Chef Midwest.

Hauck was also a semi-finalist last year.

Venerable Milwaukee chefs Paul and Joe Bartolotta are also up for an award, nominated in the national category of Outstanding Restaurateur.

The brothers run a fleet of local restaurants and catering operations from Northpoint Custard on Bradford Beach to the high-end Bacchus in downtown Milwaukee.

Finalists will be announced in April with awards handed out in May.

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