Boston, MA– The James Beard Foundation has never shied away from its love for Boston. But in recent years, the focus on regions outside of New England has taken a sharp increase. Of the over 300 finalists and semi finalists announced in this year’s Foundation Awards, only a little more than a dozen were located in the Commonwealth. And despite the list including some expected names and heavy hitters, the 2019 awards reflected both a regional as well as national trend: less culinary star power and a greater focus on newer upstarts.
Uni’s Tony Messina has referred to himself as “the anti-celebrity chef.” And true to that self-description, Messiana seems anything but assuming. Chances are, you won’t see him in a darling little bow tie, uttering empty catch phrases or possessed of any quirky affectations whatsoever. But he’s been helming the cutting boards at Ken Oringer’s Uni for over seven years now, serving his own eclectic takes on sashimi following well-received stints at Wellesley’s Alta Strada, No. 9 Park, and Barbara Lynch’s Menton in Fort Point. And last night, those seven years were summed up accurately when he took home the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Northeast.
“I honestly don’t know why I’m here, but thank you all,” Messina said in his acceptance speech at last night’s gala event in Chicago. “I don’t know what you saw in me, I don’t know what you see in me, but thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Last night marked Messina’s first win, although he had been nominated for the same award for the past two years. But nods from the James Beard Foundation—often referred to as the “Oscars of the food world”—isn’t the first time the East Boston native has received accolades both locally and nationally. In November of last year, Uni’s menu took home the “Best Outstanding Chef” award from Boston magazine, as well as a review from Zagat’s who referred to the menu at Uni as being “crazy innovative” with “flow and story.”
“I know exactly why you were up there,” stated Uni owner Ken Oringer in an Instagram post following the award. “I know exactly why you won. You earned this! So Proud!!”
But Messina wasn’t the only New England award winner at this year’s event. Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine also claimed an award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer.
Uni is located at 370 Commonwealth Ave at the Eliot Hotel in Boston. Hours are Sunday - Thursday from 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm and Friday - Saturday from 5:30 pm - 11:00 pm. For more information, visit https://uni-boston.com/