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Madison chef Jonny Hunter from Forequarter restaurant on Johnson Street was nominated Thursday for a James Beard Award in the category of "Best Chef: Midwest."

For the second year in a row, L'Etoile was nominated in the "Outstanding Restaurant" category.

The fact that more Madison chefs were nominated last year and Hunter is the only local chef nominated this year, shows how competitive the contest is, Hunter said. "I don't take it for granted at all." 

It's hard to bask in the limelight when Underground Food Collective, which runs Forequarter, is a group effort, Hunter said.

"It shows what an amazing team we have, and the people who come in and work in our restaurant," Hunter said. "Also the extraordinary partner that I have in Mel Trudeau."

Awards from James Beard Foundation are considered the top honor in the culinary world. The Foundation will announce the final nominees March 14 in Philadelphia. The final awards will be given out May 7 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Hunter was also nominated for "Best Chef: Midwest" in 2015 and 2016. L'Etoile was nominated in the category of "Outstanding Restaurant" last year as well.

L'Etoile's Tory Miller was up for an award in the overall "Outstanding Chef" category in 2016, but didn't make it into the final five. Miller won in the Midwest category in 2012 and was also nominated in 2011. L'Etoile's wine program was a semi-finalist in 2013. 

Miller said he was excited for Itaru Nagano, L'Etoile's chef de cuisine, and his team at L'Etoile. "To be recognized as one of the best in the country is just incredible."

Nagano said he's excited that L'Etoile was nominated for a second year in a row. "It's for the whole team and we push hard every day... Hopefully we make the short list (of finalists). All we can do pretty much is work hard and hope for the best at this point."

Other Wisconsin chefs nominated in the "Best Chef: Midwest" category are: Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack in Bay City, Thomas Hauck of c.1880 in Milwaukee, Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite of EsterEv in Milwaukee, Jay Sparks, of Lovechild in La Crosse, and Stefano Viglietti of Trattoria Stefano in Sheboygan. 

Twenty restaurants were nominated in the "Outstanding Restaurant" category, but no other Wisconsin restaurants are represented. 

The "Best Chef: Midwest" category includes the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Twenty were in that category, too.

Paul Bartolotta and Joe Bartolotta from Milwaukee's Bartolotta Restaurants were nominated in the category of "Outstanding Restaurateur." The men run Ristorante Bartolotta, Harbor House and Lake Park Bistro, among others. 

Nominees were selected from a list of more than 20,000 online entries, the foundation said. 

The foundation's restaurant and chef committee then produces a nominating ballot that lists the semifinalists in each of 21 restaurant and chef award categories.

The semifinalist list is then sent to an independent volunteer panel of more than 600 judges from across the country. The judges include leading regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past James Beard Foundation restaurant and chef award winners.

The semifinalists later get reduced to five final nominees in each category. The same judges then vote to select the winners.

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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.