The James Beard Awards celebrate excellence in cuisine with different categories across the nation. Recently a member of the La Crosse community joined 20 other chefs in the semifinals of the Best Chef in the Midwest Award.
The awards are some of the food industries highest honors, an honor that requires recipients provide a memorable dining experience.
"It was award-worthy, it was food that would bring me back, bring my family back, and makes me want to bring a larger group of people," La Crosse resident Trenton Caldwell describes.
Lovechild chef and owner Jay Sparks did not always plan on cooking but growing up in Florida food always played a part in his life.
"There is a food culture there, it is a Latin culture. Cuban sandwiches, black beans and rice, chorizo," Sparks says.
Sparks' connection to food helps to create the authentic experience guests appreciate and the menu full of food he crafts with his own family
"Most of the dishes are dishes that Joan and I have been eating together for 20 years," Sparks explains.
The effort put into each meal earns his spot in the semifinals for Best Chef in the Midwest, but Sparks says the nomination does not mean the effort that got him there can disappear.
"Cooking is like kicking field goals, you're only as good as your last game. Now it's like, the bar has been set a little bit higher, which is good and I have a great staff," Sparks elaborates.
While it may have been a surprise to sparks, the nomination does not shock the patrons of Lovechild.
"The food's great and the atmosphere is what a lot of people say that kind of draws them towards Lovechild," Haley Hedgecock of La Crosse discloses.
"It's just a refreshing place that you want to be," Caldwell finishes.
Regardless of who is crowned Best Chef in the Midwest, Sparks says the recognition is all he needs, "It's not something where people say, 'I want to be a semifinalist,' but it was like winning for us."
Finalists will be announced on March 14 with awards presented in Chicago on May 7.
MORE: James Beard Foundation