Meet the 2019  James Beard Award finalists for best NYC chef

Chef Daniela Soto-Innes of Atla is a finalist for a James Beard Award.
Chef Daniela Soto-Innes of Atla is a finalist for a James Beard Award. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The James Beard Foundation, which doles out arguably the most prestigious food honors around, will name its top chefs across the country on Monday — including the best chef in New York City — as part of its 2019 awards.

To better get acquainted with this year’s crop of talent, we asked the NYC finalists to share their go-to restaurants, dishes, ingredients and more. Here’s what Superiority Burger’s Brooks Headley, Atla’s Daniela Soto-Innes and Via Carota’s Jody Williams and Rita Sodi had to share (fellow finalists Alex Stupak of Empellón Midtown and Sean Gray of Momofuku Ko declined to respond.)

Brooks Headley, Superiority Burger

Why he’s nominated: The former executive pastry chef at Del Posto (where he won a James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef) has turned a teensy East Village vegetarian spot into a destination for inventive, flavorful and locally sourced fare. His burger has been named one of the best in the city multiple times over – veggie or otherwise.

His favorite NYC restaurant: “Easy one. Shopsin’s. It’s an institution. It’s small, yet mighty. It’s delicious. It’s fun. I can’t wait to see how Melinda and Zack get the new place up and running at the new Essex Market in a couple weeks. The coolest, most New York restaurant that has lasted and remained totally relevant through the constant changes of New York City.”

His quintessential NYC dish: “New York has just about everything. It seems weird to whittle it down to a single dish, eh?”

The one ingredient he couldn’t live without: “Good olive oil. When we do events at our friends’ restaurants around the country we almost always use up all of their olive oil and have to go buy more at outrageous retail prices at whatever fancy shop is nearby.”

What’s on his kitchen playlist: “Ha. I prefer to cook with no music. I love the sizzles and blurps and dishpit thuds of the kitchen. SB is tiny though, so our kitchen works and listens to the same stuff the dining room hears. We have an iPod with 5,000 songs on it that is permanently set on shuffle. A bunch of my friends with excellent record collections from all over the world helped add songs to it. I have been known to stop what I am doing many times a day, hurl myself over to the iPod nearly tackling the register person, hit pause as a song ends and search for the next song that best fits the current mood of the room.”

Daniela Soto-Innes, Atla

Why she’s nominated: Soto-Innes first rose to fame at celebrated chef Enrique Olvera’s Cosme before heading the kitchen at this NoHo sister spot, which has become an all-day institution in just two years. Among her accolades, she won a Rising Star Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2016, and at 28 she just became the youngest chef to be named World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s Best 50 Restaurants.

Her favorite NYC restaurant:Lucali. Love the deliciousness and simplicity.”

Her quintessential NYC dish:Lilia’s gelato.”

The one ingredient she couldn’t live without: “Citrus. Can’t live without ceviche.”

What’s on her kitchen playlist: “Lots of Frank Ocean.”

Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, Via Carota

Jody Williams, left, and Rita Sodi at the Edible Schoolyard NYC 2017 Spring Benefit on April 24, 2017.
Jody Williams, left, and Rita Sodi at the Edible Schoolyard NYC 2017 Spring Benefit on April 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PMC/Sylvain Gaboury

Why they’re nominated: Ask any serious foodie their go-to NYC restaurant, and chances are Via Carota is at the top of that list, thanks to its consistent, homey Italian fare and thoughtfully designed space. The partners — in real-life and business — also dominate the West Village restaurant scene with Williams’ Buvette and Sodi’s spot I Sodi.

Their favorite NYC restaurant: “So many places to choose from. We really like to visit a new neighborhood off the beaten track where we eat that one thing you can’t get anywhere else, like Di Fara Pizza.”

Their quintessential NYC dish: “Lox, cream cheese, tomato, red onion on an everything bagel. We were deprived as children of bagels and lox so we are making up for it now. Also, it is so special to shop at Russ & Daughters. It has all our favorites and is even better on the holidays.”

The one ingredient they couldn’t live without: “Extra-virgin olive oil. Spaghetti aglio olio and green salads are just a few reasons why. Olive oil is healthy, delicious and one of the most important ingredients in our kitchen.”

What’s on their kitchen playlist: “NPR, we wish. Actually we don’t play music in the kitchen. There is too much going on and too fast, we need to focus on communicating and cooking and a relatively calm and quiet environment helps.”


The James Beard Awards will be live streamed Monday on Twitter at @beardfoundation and at jamesbeard.org/awards (the gala starts at 7 p.m.).

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