Local restaurateur and chef Erik Niel is a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard Award—again.
He's the only Chattanoogan to be nominated this year and is in the running to be named Best Chef in the Southeast. It's his second consecutive year being a semifinalist in this category.
He's one of three Tennessee chefs on the recently announced list.
"It's incredible," Niel said Thursday morning. "This is the greatest acknowledgement you can get as a chef in the United States."
In addition to being a great personal honor for Niel, the nomination also has the potential to help boost business, he said.
"It's a hard thing to quantify, but there are a lot of people who travel and look at this list as a road map of places to go and see," he said. "It certainly drives people to the restaurant."
If he knew the answer to what makes him stand out to be nominated for the award, he'd do more of it, he joked. But he said having an amazing staff helps.
Winners will be announced in Chicago May 1.
Other nominees from Tennessee include Nashville's Bastion in the Best New Restaurant category.
Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman are also nominated in the Best Chef in the Southeast category. Their restaurant is Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis.
Click here for the full list of semifinalists.