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Mantuano, Izard lead Chicago crop of James Beard Award semifinalists

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The list of 2011 James Beard Foundation Award semifinalists was released today with a good number of Chicago chefs in the mix.

Paul Kahan of Blackbird and Spiaggia's Tony Mantuano are up in the Outstanding Chef category, and Spiaggia is in the Outstanding Restaurant field as well.

Blackbird's Patrick Fahy and Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate are up for Outstanding Pastry Chef, while Girl & the Goat, the much-heralded restaurant on West Randolph from "Top Chef" winner Stephanie Izard, is up for Best New Restaurant.

Veterans Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Scott Harris, head of the successful Francesca's empire who has opened no fewer than six restaurants in the last year, are among those vying for Outstanding Restaurateur.

Les Nomades and Topolobampo are semifinalists for Outstanding Service. For Outstanding Wine Service, Michael Muser of Avenues in the Peninsula is the lone Chicago contender, as is Charles Joly of the Drawing Room in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional field.

Tru's Anthony Martin is up for the coveted Rising Star Chef award for chefs under 30.

Let's hope the Chicago entrants in the Best Chef:Great Lakes category don't cancel each other out -- Schwa's Michael Carlson, Curtis Duffy of Avenues, Dirk Flanigan of the Gage and Henri, Dale Levitski of Sprout, Chris Nugent of Les Nomades, Bruce Sherman of North Pond and Paul Virant of Vie.

Each field will be whittled down to five finalists, who will be announced on March 21. The awards, held in New York in May, are the equivalent of the Oscars for the culinary industry and are voted on by a panel of industry professionals and past winners.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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