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Two photos side by side. On the left are Mark and Marissa Gencarelli, a Latino man and woman shown from the waist up. Mark is dressed in a black shirt, while Marissa is wearing a red and white vertically striped shirt. On the right is Natalia Vallejo, a woman wearing a white shirt with long black hair. She is resting her chin on her hand and behind her are numerous plants.
Photos Courtesy of Yoli Tortilleria (left) & Natalia Vallejo (right).

Two Latinas winners in the 2023 James Beard Awards

The 2023 James Beard Award winners have been announced, and among the top chefs and restaurants are two Latino winners.

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On Monday, June 5, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of the 2023 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards.

The James Beard Awards have often been described as “the Oscars of the culinary world.” 

Among this year’s winners of this year’s awards are two Latinas The “Outstanding Bakery Presented by Guinness” Award went to Yoli Tortilleria in Kansas City, MO, and the “Best Chef of the South” Award went to Natalia Vallejo of Cocina al Fondo, located in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Yoli Tortilleria was founded by husband-and-wife tandem, Mark and Marissa Gencarelli, inspired by Marissa's upbringing in Sonora, México, where she was born. The culinary style of Yoli Tortilleria was made to reflect the diversity and richness of Mexican cuisine, combining native Mexican traditional processes with local Midwestern ingredients.

Dishes they provide include stone-ground corn tortillas, Sonoran style flour tortillas, and salsas and tamales. Most recently, they have begun their Eat Yoli zine series, intersecting food and storytelling.

Cocina al Fondo is a Puerto Rican owned and operated restaurant that draws from Puerto Rican traditions, history, and flavors for their dishes. With an eye for sustainability, they seek to showcase the island's resources through locally sourced ingredients.

Their head chef, Natalia Vallejo, has been featured before by various food and news outlets including Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, The New York Times, and other outlets.

She is also the first female Puerto Rican nominee in the awards history.

"It's an honor for me to be here representing Puerto Rico, the culinary identity of my nation and Puerto Rican women," said Vallejo during her acceptance speech in Spanish, translated by Axios.

"I see this award as vindicating the work of women in kitchens, because beyond being a chef I consider myself part of a tradition of cooks, women who face the fire: mothers, aunts, grandmothers who made dishes from intuition, tradition, memory and affection,” she continued.

Of this year’s nominees, 17 were Latino, notable one of which being Philadelphia's Dionicio Jimenez, owner of Cantina La Martina

Recently, the James Beard Foundation has undergone changes to how it nominates its award candidates, following criticisms that the process lacked inclusivity.

Changes range from DEI training for nomination experts, to the suspension of its 2020 and 2021 awards in order to audit systemic biases and renovate its nomination process.

Founded over 30 years ago, James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization that hosts the annual James Beard Awards, bringing to the fore top chefs and restaurants from across the United States.

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