James Beard recognizes Auburn's Hudman, Bancroft

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Two of Auburn’s own continue to be recognized by the famed James Beard Foundation for their culinary mastery.

Michael Hudman, a 2002 alumnus of the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, is among the five chefs named finalists for the James Beard Foundation Award, Best Chef Southeast.

David Bancroft, owner and executive chef of Acre in Auburn, who attended the Harbert College, was a semifinalist for the foundation’s Best Chef South award.

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.

Hudman and Andrew Ticer, his longtime friend and fellow executive chef at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, have shared seven consecutive semifinalist nominations. This is their third year as finalists. Besides Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, the pair have opened a number of Memphis restaurants, Hog & Hominy, The Gray Canary, Catherine and Mary’s and Porcellino’s, as well as Josephine Estelle in New Orleans.

This marked the third consecutive year for Bancroft to be a semifinalist and third year he credited the crew at Acre with his success.

“For the type of service, the details we offer, it takes a real team to make our restaurant and our concept successful,” said Bancroft. “We strive to provide our staff, many of whom are Auburn University alumni, with opportunities for success. Through our training and graduation process, we see the pride they have for their job and this community.”

Hudman and Ticer also credit their team: “From day one, we have focused on trying to create a business that feels like family, to try and create a culture that would bring our people together and keep them together. Family is the most important thing in our lives, it has been the backbone of everything we've done from the start.”

Bancroft said he was “very humbled” to make this year’s list and challenge what he calls the “impenetrable wall of New Orleans.” Even if the list changes from year to year, he said this year is dominated by New Orleans-based chefs.

Of the 20 semifinalists vying for Best Chef South, seven were from the Big Easy. Three of those made the final list of six.

“When you think where good food comes from, you think New Orleans,” he explained. “It’s tough to compete with that. I’m always telling my wife that we have to work twice as hard, be twice as creative, because we are not New Orleans.”

No matter how many nominations Hudman and Ticer earn, they said “it's just an honor to even be in the discussion among such a talented group of our peers.”

The duo grew up together in Memphis, but went their separate ways for college: Hudman to Auburn and Ticer to Ole Miss. They were reacquainted at one of the nation’s top culinary schools, Johnson & Wales University. After returning to Memphis and working for French Master Chef Jose Gutierrez, they went to the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy. They also spent time in Lyon, France before moving back to Memphis and opening their first restaurant.

Bancroft opened Acre in 2013. With a strong commitment to locally sourced ingredients, he uses the restaurant’s acre of land 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.

He recently won on Food Network’s “Iron Chef Showdown” and he will open his second Auburn restaurant, Bow & Arrow, this summer.

Auburn University has helped propel graduates to success for more than 160 years, with an alumni network of 238,000 strong.

Winners will be named at the James Beard Awards Gala on May 7 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which is open to the public.

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