Detroit/ Food & Drinks
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Published on June 10, 2024
Detroit and Clawson Chefs Eye Top Honors at 2024 James Beard AwardsSource: Google Street View

As the James Beard Awards approach, the buzzing anticipation around Michelin stars and lauded chefs shifts to the heartland of Michigan where a pair of Detroit and Clawson establishments stand poised to potentially take home top honors. Representing the resilient spirit of their cities, Baobab Fare, an East African restaurant in Detroit, and Sozai, a sustainable sushi spot in Clawson, have emerged as finalists in their respective categories.

At the helm of Baobab Fare are Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere, a husband-and-wife duo whose journey from refugees to revered restaurateurs could culminate in winning the Outstanding Restaurateur award. Having fled Burundi roughly a decade ago, the determined couple serves up dishes like kuku in their New Center area treasure, alongside fried plantains and coconut rice. "We inspire a lot of refugees — refugees who are coming to this country without hope and one day thinking that they can win this kind of title," Mamba told CBS News Detroit. "It's a big deal for us because we want to show people that this world can be equal." Amid throngs of contenders, their story serves as a vivid patch in the American quilt, telling a tale of perseverance and culinary excellence.

In Clawson, Chef Hajime Sato of Sozai, a Japanese restaurant embracing sustainability, is nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Sato's gastronomic narrative has already woven through praise from both local and national platforms including The Detroit News’ best new restaurant list and a nod from Bon Appetit magazine. With a career that stretches back to 25 years cooking in Seattle, Sato's nomination was also highlighted in The Detroit News, spotlighting his pivot from last year's Outstanding Chef category to this regional accolade.

The James Beard Foundation has long stood as a benchmark for excellence within the food industry, but not without undergoing its periods of reexamination and evolution. Amidst their restructuring, they've recommitted to a "code of ethics" within the criteria, which includes the gastronomy and the way employees are treated, explained Tanya Holland, chair of the awards committee, in a statement obtained by 13 On Your Side. This focus on holistic evaluation aligns with the narratives of both Baobab Fare and Sozai which spotlight sustainable, ethical, and heartfelt approaches to dining.

While the spotlight dances over the nominees' achievements, there's also noteworthy journalistic talent up for recognition at the media awards with the nomination of Detroit Free Press Restaurant Critic Lyndsay C. Green. A testament to narrative excellence, the James Beard Media Awards celebrate the enduring power of storytelling that ties our diverse palates together, emphasized Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, to CBS News Detroit. Winners for the prestigious culinary and media categories will be unveiled at the awards ceremony on June 10, held at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, with a live stream available at for those keen to watch the unfolding of this gastronomic gala.