DETROIT (WXYZ) — It’s one of the most prestigious awards chefs can earn. We’re talking about the James Beard Awards and this year’s semifinalists have been announced.
Many local chefs are in the running for several categories, including Lena Sareini. She is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
“Oscar nomination for the food world,” she said.
That’s how the pastry chef describes the James Beard award.
“(I) fell to the floor and cried immediately,” Sareini said.
She has been with Selden Standard in Midtown for almost five years. The 27-year-old was close to winning the award before.
“My third James Beard semifinalist nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year,” Sareini said. “I’m hoping third time is the charm, I don’t know.”
More than 10 Michigan chefs and restaurants were nominated for a James Beard Award this year. The awards are national and regional. This is a special honor since Sareini says she comes from a family of foodies.
“We call our grandfather the original foodie because he was in love with food before Instagram happened,” she said.
The local chef loves a challenge, which is why she never repeats a dessert on her menu.
“Once I take it off, I will never make it again,” Sareini said.
Her dishes are bold, beautiful and flavorful.
“Really bright, pretty and refreshing, tangy and sweet, salty and sweet,” she describes.
Sareini says she likes to use savory elements, and the goal is always to have a plate return to the kitchen completely clean.
One time she whipped together a dessert she calls campfire sundae and a couple once ate it on their first date.
“It was all they ever talked about for the longest time," Sareini said. "Anytime they would go to any other restaurant. The boyfriend would be like, ‘how do you like the dessert?’ And she would say, ‘well, it’s alright but it’s no campfire Sundae.”
Fast forward years later, on their wedding anniversary, the now husband asked Sareini to make the campfire sundae again and he gave his wife a shirt that’s said "it’s good but it’s not campfire sundae good.”
“She wears it in here and it’s just the greatest thing ever. I love it so much,” Sareini said.
Sareini was born and raised in Dearborn and sometimes uses her Lebanese background to influence her desserts.
“(It would) be really cool to represent my community as well because there are not a lot people who like me that are even on the list,” Sareini said.
The final award nominees will be announced late March and the awards are presented in May.