Viroqua chef nominated for highest honor in restaurant industry

Viroqua chef nominated for highest...

VIROQUA, Wis. (WKBT) - Every kitchen carries different recipes and ingredients. But Driftless Cafe in Viroqua carries something else too: a big nomination.

Cafe owner Luke Zahm was recently nominated for the James Beard Foundation.

The awards have been described as the "Food Oscars' and the highest honor in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants around the country are nominated each year for the award and Zahm is one of seven chefs in Wisconsin to receive this year's nomination for best chef.

And for a rural town of just over 4,000 people, one might wonder: why this cafe?

"There is a revival happening here, an economic revival, a food revival, something that's going to define and shape this place in the future," Zahm said.

Vernon county has one of the highest concentrations of organic farms in the country.

So it's no surprise this farm-to-table cafe is getting some big-time recognition.

"Even through the coldest months of the winter, we're still taking in local foods , figuring out foods to process it to make it, to make it accessible for people," he said.

And besides the fresh food and a constantly changing menu, cafe employees say it's the energy of the chef that keeps the kitchen cooking.

"A caring compassionate person to work for, it's been a really good experience," said cafe waiter Shawn Neary.

Zahm says whether he wins or not, there is a bigger message to take away.

"Hope I think is what it makes me feel. you can do this in a really small place and you can cultivate an identity."

More than 24,000 entries for the James Beard Foundation were received this year.

The Restaurant and Chef Committee then reviews that list to determine which restaurants are nominated.
The James Beard Foundation will announce the final nominees on March 15th during a press conference in Los Angeles.

Other Wisconsin restaurants are also recognized as some of the best in the country this year.


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