Three Rhode Island Chefs Make James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalist List
It is a first nod for all three, including Robert Andreozzi, chef-owner of Pizza Marvin, Milena Pagán, chef-owner of Little Sister, and Sherry Pocknett, chef at Sly Fox Den Too.
Three established and up-and-coming Rhode Island chefs earned spots on the 2023 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalists list for Best Chef: Northeast. It is a first nod for all three, including Robert Andreozzi, chef-owner of Pizza Marvin, Milena Pagán, chef-owner of Little Sister and Rebelle Artisan Bagels, and Sherry Pocknett, chef at Sly Fox Den Too in Charlestown. This comes as a big surprise since Rhode Island only had one Best Chef: Northeast semifinalist nod for former Ocean House Coast chef William Rietzel on last year’s 2022 list, after a return from a pandemic hiatus in 2021. Let’s see what Rhode Island can do this year.
Andreozzi is proud to be on the long list. His pizza and seafood restaurant, also co-owned by Jesse Hedberg, is known for its Twelve Pies of Christmas, which collaborates with twelve different Rhode Island restaurants each holiday season to offer their most popular dishes in pizza form, with some proceeds being donated to Amos House or Farm Fresh Rhode Island. “Seeing my name on the long list with so many talented people past and present is incredibly affirming for the work we are doing at Marvin. I am very appreciative for all the people who bought into those ideas from the very beginning and those who continue to build this culture from the ground up,” he says. “I particularly want to call out our staff who, without them, this nomination would be entirely impossible. I have never had this much fun coming to work.”
Meanwhile, Pagán has earned press for her Puerto Rican cuisine and baked goods from national outlets this year, including Bon Appetit, the New York Times’ T Magazine and “Good Morning America.” As a result of its special invite-only Friday night multi-course dinner series, the restaurant also donated “close to $2,000 to a potpourri of social action organizations in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona’s devastating toll in September.” Pagán says she is very surprised to be nominated and happy to have their work recognized.
Indigenous chef Sherry Pocknett of Sly Fox Den Too, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, is currently battling cancer, but she says in a Facebook post that, “I’m still blessed. I’m still happy. I’m through the roof grateful because tomorrow is not promised today.” In an earlier post, she wrote, “I am numb with joy. Just to be nominated for this prestigious award has me baffled. Best chef of the Northeast! This is a lifetime achievement for me just for them to mention my name chef Sherry Pocknett.” The Boston Globe’s Jenna Pelletier highlighted Pocknett’s culinary journey in a recent Boston Globe article.
In previous years, many Rhode Island chefs had sequential semifinalist and finalist nods for Best Chef: Northeast, but never nabbed the award, including Ben Sukle who garnered four appearances on the long list, two of which were for representing Oberlin. He made it to the finalist list in 2018 and 2019 for Best Chef: Northeast for Oberlin, and in 2017 for birch, and as a semifinalist for birch in 2014. Persimmon chef-owner Champe Speidel was nominated seven times in the semifinalist category for Best Chef; Northeast, the most recent after moving Persimmon from Bristol to Providence. Persimmon also earned semifinalist recognition for “Outstanding Service” in 2013 and 2014. James Mark, former owner of north (and Big King) in Providence was also a Best Chef: Northeast 2020 semifinalist for Big King, and a 2019 semifinalist and finalist. And Matthew Jennings, who once owned the renowned Farmstead in Providence earned at least four nominations for Best Chef: Northeast, including three times on the short list of nominees.
The one Rhode Islander to win James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northeast title was Al Forno’s late George Germon and Johanne Killeen in 1993 (Killeen also earned a separate finalist nomination for Outstanding Chef in 2018). Olneyville New York System in Providence also received the 2014 James Beard Foundation: America’s Classics award for dishing up great Rhode Island classics like Olneyville New York System wieners, salt and vinegar French fries and coffee milk for almost seventy years. Aunt Carrie’s in Narragansett also earned an America’s Classics Award in 2007 for its iconic seafood, including clam cakes and chowder.