Chef Clay Conley, Of Buccan Palm Beach, Named A 2017 James Beard Award Semifinalist For Best Chef: South

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by Lyssa Goldberg Feb 21, 2017 04:22 PM

A Palm Beach County chef has been recognized as one of 2017's best chefs in the South.

Clay Conley, the chef behind Buccan, the Sandwich Shop, Imoto and Grato, has been named a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Best Chef: South category. He's been up for the award twice before, but not since 2013.

"It's the biggest award in the culinary world, so anytime to just be nominated—if you think about all the restaurants that are in South Florida, or in the South—to be picked in the top 20 chefs is quite an honor," Conley said.

Restaurant and chef semifinalists were selected by the James Beard Foundation's committee from among more than 24,000 entries. They will be voted on by a panel of leading restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educations, and past award recipients across the country. 

The winners will be announced May 1 at the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala in Chicago.

Conley was previously named a semifinalist in the Best Chef: South category in 2012 and 2013, not long after his first restaurant, Buccan, opened in Palm Beach.

This past year, the top local chef opened his first West Palm Beach eatery—Grato, a more casual, family-friendly Italian restaurant.

"Maybe opening Grato had something to do with it," Conley mused.

The 2017 Best Chef: South semifinalist list includes one other South Florida culinary leader, Deme Lomas of Niu Kitchen in Miami, as well as additional Florida chefs from Tampa, Orlando, Winter Park and Clearwater. New Orleans led the pack, with five chefs total hailing from The Big Easy. 

Several South Florida chefs and restaurants were also named semifinalists for 2017 James Beard Awards in national categories: Brad Kilgore of Alter (Rising Star Chef); Zak Stern of Zak the Baker (Outstanding Baker); and Asian barbecue spot KYU (Best New Restaurant). 

While Conley noted there isn't anything new for him and his restaurants on the horizon at the moment, he said that with Grato only a little over a year old, he is focused on tightening everything up and getting through busy season.

"Just trying to improve on what we have," he said.

Related articles: 

Buccan Chef Clay Conley Is Opening Up Grato, An Italian Trattoria, In West Palm Beach This December

Chef Clay Conley's Grato Restaurant In West Palm Beach Will Make You Grateful For Italian Eats

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