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Jen Castle and Blake Spalding, co-owners of Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, have been named semifinalists in the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards, the nation's most prestigious recognition program for professionals in the food and beverage industry.
Castle and Spalding, who have operated their farm-to-table restaurant for more than 17 years in the tiny southern Utah town, are among 20 semifinalists in the "Best Chef: Southwest" category. The region also includes chefs from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
On Wednesday, 21 different award categories were announced representing a wide range of culinary talent, including exceptional chefs, restaurants, wine and spirit professionals, pastry chefs and bakers.
Finalists in each category will be announced March 15 and winners will be honored May 1 at a gala in Chicago. For a full list of semifinalists, visit jamesbeard.org/awards.
Denise Cerreta, the altruistic entrepreneur who opened the first One World Café in Salt Lake City and launched a national foundation that has fed more than 2 million people around the globe was named the James Beard Foundation's 2017 Humanitarian of the Year in January.
Other Utah chefs have been named semifinalists in the past, including Bowman Brown and Viet Pham, of the now-closed Forage, as well as John Murko, who now owns Firewood in Park City.
Since opening Hell's Backbone Grill, Castle and Spalding have become Utah's poster children for operating a farm-to-table restaurant. Their restaurant includes a 6-acre farm that boasts 150 chickens and a dozen goats. Affectionately called Blaker's Acres, the farm provides the restaurant a bounty of organic produce, eggs, herbs and flowers that garnish every plate.
The farm is rewarding and a necessity as their restaurant is one of the most remote towns in the lower 48 states. The closest towns are Torrey and Escalante, both about 45 minutes in different directions along the mountain switchbacks of Highway 12.
Each year, Castle and Spalding harvest more than 9,000 pounds of food on the farm and another 3,000 pounds of fruit from the valley. They work with area ranchers to buy grass-fed beef and lamb and try to buy from area farmers.