December's the last month for culinary civilians to have a say in who takes home a James Beard award in 2011.
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The James Beard Foundation has been accepting online nominations for its restaurant and chef categories since October, but promotional campaigns mounted by restaurant owners who'd like to see their top toques get the recognition they deserve -- and their dining rooms get the traffic a food world "Oscar" invariably incites -- are now picking up speed.
Anyone's eligible to proffer a name in the organization's 20 restaurant and chef categories, including Best Chef: Southwest. Vegas chefs have claimed the title two years running, although Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston scored a nomination last year.
After collecting online nominations, the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee produces a ballot with 20 semi-finalists (give or take) in each category. The ballots are distributed to 308 former winners, 250 panelists and 17 committee members. Their votes are tallied, finalists named and a second ballot released to the same group; Winners are announced in May.
Best chef nominees "may be from any kind of dining establishment," so this is your chance to alert the culinary elite to your favorite tortilla maker, pitmaster or burger genius. Nomination season closes at 11:59 p.m. December 31.