Auburn University alumnus McDaniel a semifinalist for James Beard Foundation Award

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Rob McDaniel, a graduate of the Auburn University Hotel and Restaurant Management program, has been named a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award.

The 2002 Auburn alumnus is one of 20 semi-finalists vying for Best Chef South.

“I couldn’t believe it. Really. I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes,” he admitted. “It still blows my mind to think about it.”

The James Beard Foundation first began recognizing the people behind food and beverage in 1991, forever solidifying the designation of a celebrity chef. A James Beard award is considered the highest honor in the food and beverage industry.

Through the years, James Beard award recipients have included such culinary icons as Tom Colicchio, owner of Craft in New York and co-host of Bravo’s “Top Chef;” Michael Symon, owner of Lola in Cleveland and an Iron Chef on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America;” Thomas Keller, restaurateur including The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery; and Mario Batali, restaurateur, author and TV chef. Batali and Symon are also co-hosts of ABC’s talk show “The Chew.”

This year, more than 44,000 entries were received for 20 restaurant and chef award categories, including Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Best Chef in 10 different regions, Rising Star Chef of the Year, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional, Outstanding Bar Program and Best New Restaurant.

The final five nominees in each category will be announced March 18, and the winner will be named at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception on May 6 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The public event also will recognize the culinary icon and James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Emeril Lagasse with its Humanitarian of the Year Award.

McDaniel is in line to follow in the footsteps of his former boss and Iron Chef America teammate Chris Hastings, who was named Best Chef South in 2012. McDaniel worked as sous chef at Hastings’ Birmingham restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club, for three years. The pair reunited in 2011 to appear on an episode of Food Network’s Iron Chef America. They ousted Iron Chef Bobby Flay, who was recognized in 1993 by the James Beard Foundation as Rising Star Chef of the Year.

McDaniel has been the general manager and executive chef at SpringHouse restaurant in Alexander City since it opened in 2009. After graduating from Auburn, he moved to Vermont to study at the New England Culinary Institute, or NECI, where he said he learned to appreciate sustainable living and cooking, supporting local and organic farmers and the importance of using local resources.

Before graduating from NECI, McDaniel worked for Chef Johnny Earles at Criolla’s in Grayton Beach, Fla. In 2004, he returned to his native Alabama to be a sous chef for Hastings. After three years, his culinary path led him to serve as chef at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham. He left Birmingham in 2009 for SpringHouse. Jim ‘N Nick’s owner Nick Pihakis is also a James Beard semifinalist this year in the Outstanding Restaurateur category.

Auburn’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program in the College of Human Sciences honored McDaniel at the 2012 Hospitality Gala with the Outstanding Alumnus Award.

(Written by Amy Weaver.)

Contact: Harriet Giles, College of Human Sciences, (334) 844-3241 (, or
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (