Auburn’s McDaniel, Bancroft competing for James Beard Foundation Award

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The James Beard Foundation, a culinary arts organization behind the nation's top recognition program for chefs and industry professionals, has pitted two of Auburn's own against each other for the title of Best Chef South.

Rob McDaniel, a 2002 alumnus of the Hotel and Restaurant Management program in the College of Human Sciences, and David Bancroft, the owner of Acre, a restaurant in Auburn, who attended the Harbert College of Business, are among 20 semifinalists vying for the James Beard Foundation Award, Best Chef South.

The nomination is the fourth consecutive nod for McDaniel and the first for Bancroft.

"For the last three years, there has only been one semifinalist from Alabama; this year we have three," noted McDaniel. "If one of us were to win, it would bring well deserved attention to the winner, but also to the rest of the state and what's happening with food here in Alabama."

The third Alabama chef named a semifinalist is Bill Briand, executive chef at Fisher's Upstairs at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach. He is also a friend of Bancroft and McDaniel. Briand's culinary resume includes spending seven years working under the legendary chef, Emeril Lagasse.

Bancroft said McDaniel was actually the person to call and break the news of his nomination to him. McDaniel said he called Briand as well, offering congratulations to both friends.

"It is because of Rob's friendship and support that the opportunity to be listed with him means that much more," said Bancroft.

The fact that Alabama is represented by three of 20 chefs isn't lost on Bancroft either. Only Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana garnered more nods.

"I am extremely honored and humbled to be listed alongside these southern chefs and friends," added Bancroft. "I am also very proud for the state of Alabama and my friends Rob McDaniel and Bill Briand. These two set the bar very high and I am humbled to share this moment with them."

Even though McDaniel has fallen short of earning the title, Best Chef South, for three straight years, he said, "The fourth [nomination] has been just as humbling as the first. It means we have continued to do something right."

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.

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 studied at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. When he returned to his native Alabama, McDaniel worked at Hot and Hot Fish Club and Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q, both in Birmingham, before joining SpringHouse.

In 2012, Auburn's Hotel and Restaurant Management program honored McDaniel with the Outstanding Alumnus Award.

Bancroft followed a longstanding family tradition and attended Auburn, but left in 2006 to accept a job at Amsterdam Café in Auburn. After a few months, he was promoted to sous chef and named executive chef within a year. In 2011, Bancroft became the executive chef at The Clubhouse Restaurant at the Auburn University Club. He left that kitchen to fulfill a lifelong goal of opening his own restaurant. Acre, located on Glenn Avenue a few blocks from downtown Auburn, opened in 2013.

With his commitment to locally sourced ingredients, Bancroft uses the acre of land the restaurant sits on to grow produce, herbs and fruit for his ever-changing menu. He also works with local ranchers for farm-raised meats and local and regional artisans for pickles, jams and cheeses.

This year the James Beard Foundation received more than 20,000 online entries for 21 restaurant and chef award categories, including Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Bar Program, Best New Restaurant and Best Chef in 10 different regions.

The final five nominees in each category will be announced March 15 in San Francisco and via Twitter at The winner will be named at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 2 at Lyric Opera of Chicago, which is open to the public.

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