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Kuya Lord Chef Lord Maynard Llera Takes Home the James Beard Award for Best Chef: California



Kuya Lord chef Lord Maynard Llera won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: California at the 2024 ceremony held on June 10 in Chicago. This is his first James Beard Award win, and the only award Los Angeles took home this year. On June 8, the James Beard Foundation hosted its media awards which celebrated outstanding journalism, the best cookbooks of the year, and more.

Llera was named as a nominee for the Best Chef award on April 3, 2024 alongside Geoff Davis (of Oakland’s Burdell), Rogelio Garcia (of Napa Valley’s Auro), Tara Monsod (of San Diego’s Animae), and Buu “Billy” Ngo (of Sacramento’s Kru). The James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards are considered highly prestigious and are often referred to as the “Oscars of food,” coined by a chef within Ruth Reichl’s 1991 Los Angeles Times report covering the inaugural ceremony.

Kuya Lord started as a pop-up for Llera, who moved the business into a permanent storefront in Melrose Hill in 2022. With a Filipino-focused menu, the casual order-at-the-counter restaurant with about 20 seats serves classic wood-fire dishes like lucenachon (slow-cooked pork belly), lechon kawali (twice-cooked pork belly), and New Caledonia prawns brushed with garlic crab sauce. Kuya Lord has received numerous accolades over the past two years, including landing on the Los Angeles Times’ 101 Best Restaurants and Bon Appétit’s 24 Best New Restaurants for 2023. As one of the highest-regarded restaurants in Los Angeles’s expansive Filipino dining scene, this award puts Kuya Lord on the national map alongside Chicago’s tasting menu restaurant Kasama and Seattle’s Musang.

Kuya tray at Kuya Lord.
Cathy Chaplin

The 2024 awards program also saw Strong Water Anaheim receive a nomination for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program and Gusto Bread for Outstanding Bakery, but neither won in their respective category. Last year, Los Angeles took home three James Beard Awards, with Margarita Manzke winning for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, Anajak Thai’s Justin Pichetrungsi for Best Chef: West, and Ototo for Outstanding Wine or Other Beverages. The previous year, 2022, Los Angeles was shut out from any wins completely.

Though the James Beard Awards are considered some of the most illustrious awards in hospitality, the program was the subject of an internal audit in 2021 after coming under scrutiny for misbehavior and abuse allegations against nominated chefs, and a lack of nominated and winning Black chefs among the categories. The audit resulted in a commitment to increased diversity among nominees, a new process of handling abuse allegations against chefs, and more. The awards program was canceled in 2020 and 2021, before returning in 2022.

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