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Two local chefs used the word humbling to describe being named James Beard Award semifinalists Wednesday for "Best Chef: Midwest."

Dan Fox of Heritage Tavern and Jonny Hunter of Forequarter were named to the category along with 18 other chefs. Also among the nominees was Justin Carlisle, a former chef at 43 North and Harvest Restaurant now working at Ardent in Milwaukee.

"Obviously (I'm) very, very proud of our entire team," said Fox, owner of Heritage Tavern and former executive chef at the Madison Club.

"It's been an interesting ride in opening up a brand new restaurant in Madison and I'm just super excited to share this with everyone who's worked so hard over the past year, year and a half," said Fox, who opened Heritage in September 2013.

He and others from Heritage cooked at the Beard House in February 2014, which Fox called a memorable experience. "I was very honored to be there in the presence of so many chefs who have come through that kitchen."

Meanwhile, on his Facebook page, Hunter thanked well-wishers, but deflected the attention and instead conferred it on his team at Forequarter, run by the Underground Food Collective, which he co-founded.

"Thanks for sending all the congrats," he wrote. "I'm still self conscious about the title chef but it's great to see the team at Forequarter highlighted."

He singled out Tim Smith, Forequarter's chef de cuisine, and Dylan Carlson, its assistant chef or sous chef. He also credited Mark Schieber, a chef at Forequarter who left in August to go back to his native Kansas City, but whom he said had a lasting effect on the restaurant. 

"He was with us for two years and was really important to the development of the restaurant and the identity of who we are," Hunter said later in a phone conversation.

Hunter also pointed to his pastry staff of Megan Travers and Joslyn Mink, and really stressed that Forequarter is a team effort.

"My name is (on the nomination), but we work really collaboratively and I think the work that people are seeing is a lot of that. I think Dylan and Tim deserve the majority of the credit here."

Carlson is a farmer who only works at Forequarter during the winter and on weekends in the summer. He raises all of the chickens and quail eggs used at the restaurant, Hunter said.

"Not a lot of restaurants have someone who is both a farmer and a chef. That's pretty cool. I think he brings elements from that experience that really come through to the values that we have."

Hunter is proud to be in the same elite company as Doug Flicker of Piccolo in Minneapolis, who was also among the 20 nominees. Flicker "is kind of one of my heroes as far as chefs go, so just being on the same list as him is pretty awesome."

In 2013 Forequarter was nominated for a Beard Award in the best new restaurant category. 

The 2015 finalists will be announced March 24, with the awards gala held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 4. 

"It's pretty humbling," Hunter said. "You work really hard and you are focused on running a restaurant, making people happy. It's awesome to see that people pay attention to that."

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.