Lincoln Carson

Lincoln Carson said his May 4 James Beard Foundation nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef is ironic.     

The week before Carson’s nomination was announced, he was forced to shutter his 8-month-old restaurant, the critically acclaimed Bon Temps.

“I closed it permanently last week,” Carson said. “It was a new restaurant, less than a year old. It was breaking even on a week-by-week basis.”

The COVID-19 pandemic dropped it to takeout dining, something Carson only hosted to maintain just enough money to cover his employees’ paychecks and health care coverage. 

“When you have that much debt that has to be repaid, it’s impossible to reopen it. A restaurant is built on cash flow,” he said.

“No cash flow; no business. Restaurants do not have a large rainy-day fund in the bank.”

Located in the Arts District, Bon Temps was a “modern French brasserie with industrial roots.” Since opening in June 2019, Bon Temps was recognized as one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants. 

Bon Temps was Carson’s first solo restaurant. Born in Beirut, Carson has worked in the business for more than 30 years, in celebrated restaurants like Le Bernardin and La Cote Basque.

“I’ve been doing it for a very long time,” he said. “Generally, I’m at the top of the game. It’s interesting. I finally went out and did it on my own—a restaurant on my own—and regardless of where we wound up with that, it got a lot of attention nationally.”

For the James Beard award, he is up against Juan Contreras, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco; Margarita Manzke, Republique, Los Angeles; Diane Moua, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis; Natasha Pickowicz, Flora Bar, New York City; and Miro Uskokovic, Gramercy Tavern, New York City. 

“It’s been a week. I’ll say that,” Carson said. “I’m thrilled, though. Honestly, it’s good for the industry in general. I was very happy that the Beard Foundation decided to keep moving (despite COVID-19). There were a lot of really excellent people on the list who didn’t make it to the top five. We were all in very good company.”

The nominees were announced on May 4, what would have been the 30th anniversary James Beard Awards in Chicago. During the past few months, the foundation has supported the relief and rebuild efforts, postponing awards activities to focus on the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. 

After consulting with the chefs and restaurateurs across the country, the foundation decided to announce the 2020 nominees and honorees, and set the dates for this year’s remaining awards events, which recognize the 2019 work. 

The foundation boasts 60 categories in its various awards programs, including restaurant and chef, restaurant design and media. The foundation will forego a physical ceremony for the media awards and instead will announce them on May 27. The restaurant and chef winners will be unveiled September 25 from Chicago, and they will be broadcast live via the James Beard Foundation’s Twitter feed. 

“Some of the restaurants are temporarily closed, some are operating in another form, such as takeout or meal-relief efforts, while others have already announced that they will permanently close,” said foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach. “Today we acknowledge the accomplishments of all the people behind these restaurants, and the need for everyone to fight for this industry that employs 16 million people and is a vital part of American culture.”

Other LA nominees include: Nightshade as Best New Restaurant; Jon Yao of Kato for Rising Star Chef of the Year; and Jessica Koslow of Sqirl for Best Chef: California.

Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and further the foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more sustainable for everyone. The foundation is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in New York City.

“I hope this validates all the hard work me and my staff did,” Carson said. “The award isn’t about one person or one restaurant. It’s about an entire staff.”