A beloved Maine-based baker fell short Monday evening in her quest to win a prestigious James Beard Award in the category of Outstanding Baker.
Alison Pray of Standard Baking Co., in Portland who was up against five other finalists from around the country, did not win. The awards were announced Monday during ceremonies held in Chicago.
The James Beard Awards are often referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world and are among the most coveted in the restaurant industry.
Michel Suas and Belinda Leong, who operate b. patisserie in San Francisco, won the Outstanding Baker award. B.patisserie’s website describes the bakery as serving modern French-style pastries, “along with American flavors and local influences.”
Pray, who learned she was a finalist in March, operates Standard Baking with her husband and bakery co-owner, Matt James. The couple took the bakery’s three department managers with them to the ceremony, including a production manager who has worked at Standard since it opened 21 years ago.
Headed back to Portland on Tuesday, Pray said in a telephone interview from LaGuardia airport in New York that the day of the awards ceremony was “nerve wracking,” but overall “it was an amazing experience. The whole event is so energizing and exciting. We’re still really high from it.”
Pray didn’t have to wait long to learn whether she’d won or lost – Outstanding Baker was the third award announcement on the program, she said. Her Maine crew cheered when they heard her name and the name of the bakery read aloud with the other nominees. Although it was obviously disappointing to lose, Pray said she was happy that Michel Suas won; she’s been to his baking school and “in my opinion, it’s the best baking program in the country.”
“He’s been a teacher and a mentor for us in the baking business, for hundreds and probably thousands of bakers,” Pray said. “We think he should have been nominated and won this right at the beginning. So we were really happy that he won.” (The Outstanding Baker Award dates back to 2015.)
Pray was a semifinalist last year in the same category. Maine had 11 semifinalists nominated in this year’s major categories, including five for Best Chef: Northeast, but Pray was the only Mainer to be selected as a finalist.