ANNA MARIA -- It was some 18 years ago that Beach Bistro owner Sean Murphy hired Peter Arpke as a dishwasher. On Thursday, Chef Arpke became a contender for one of the culinary world's greatest distinctions.
The James Beard Foundation announced the restaurant and chef semifinalists for the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards, the "Oscars" of the food world. The foundation, which promotes the culinary arts in America and develops recognition of the chef's profession as an important element of culture and hospitality, named Arpke a semi-finalist as Best Chef in the South for 2013.
Arpke, who no longer has to wash the dishes, is enthralled.
"I am humbled by the nomination," he said. "It is the highest honor that an American chef can receive. I am also grateful for all of the support I have received from the Beach Bistro and Eat Here chef teams."
After working his way up from dishwasher, Arpke developed his talents and capabilities until he took over the head chef position of the chef team at the Bistro and helped develop and train similar chef teams at other restaurants that Murphy opened as a part owner or consultant.
Today, Arpke is not only head chef for the Beach Bistro, he also serves as execu
tive chef for the three Eat Here restaurants that owner Murphy opened on Anna Maria, in Sarasota and on Siesta Key.
Murphy said he is "deeply moved" by Arpke's selection.
"Beard 'Best Chef of the South' has a great ring to it," Murphy said. "I can still see him as a kid in my kitchen. Peter is an excellent candidate for this award. He has worked hard at his profession for a very long time."
Arpke was selected as a semifinalist in the nation's southern region and is one of nine Florida chefs on the list.
Florida has more chefs on the list than any other "south region" state. New Orleans is the city with most nominations in the category with five semi-finalists. The semifinalists were selected by a Restaurant and Chef Committee from over 44,000 online entries in 20 categories.
Murphy said Arpke shined when he had an opportunity "to lead the chef teams that created the Beach Bistro's performance dinners at the James Beard House in New York in 2005 and 2010."
"The James Beard House is America's culinary temple," Murphy said. "The Beard House performance dinners are a true test of a chef's talents, and Peter's performance there was stellar."
The Beach Bistro and Eat Here restaurants have had an impressive run of awards and acclaim in the past year. The Bistro was once again selected to ZAGAT's "Top Restaurants in America" and received honors for "Best Food" on Florida's Gulf Coast.
The Eat Here restaurants were selected by Florida Trend's Golden Spoon Award program as one of their "Best New Restaurants" in Florida. Each Eat Here restaurant has been selected "Best New Restaurant" by each of the communities where they have opened.
The finalists for the James Beard Award will be announced March 18, and are determined by an independent volunteer panel (restaurant critics, food editors, past winners) of more than 600 judges from across the country. The panel votes on specific award categories to determine the final five nominees in each category. From there, the winners will be announced May 6 at an awards ceremony held in New York's Lincoln Center.
Some of this year's Beard awards have already been announced -- chef Emeril Lagasse was awarded the Humanitarian Award and chef Cecilia Chiang has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Stephen Frater, Herald senior business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or on Twitter @DarthSifjr.