Bulrush chef-owner Rob Connoley photo by Michelle Volansky

Rob Connoley of Bulrush nominated in James Beard Awards finalist round for Best Chef: Midwest

Rob Connoley of Bulrush has just been named as a nominee in the Best Chef: Midwest category of the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) 2024 Restaurant and Chef Awards. The shortlist was announced this morning, with Connoley competing with five other chefs for the honor, with results to be announced in Chicago on June 10.

Connoley said he’s “super excited” to be featured in the final round. “I do a quirky little restaurant that doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people, so I honestly never thought I would get beyond the semifinalist round, so it's a little bit overwhelming to even imagine how this could have happened,” he said. “That said, I've got an amazing team right now and I'm just super excited because I think local people understand this means I get to represent the city, the state, the region in the competition and show that St. Louis is as good as or better than some of the other cities in the region.”  

The other nominees for Best Chef: Midwest include two Minneapolis-based chefs, Ann Ahmed of Khâluna and Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai, Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite of Milwaukee’s EsterEv, and Tim Nicholson of The Boiler Room in Omaha, Nebraska.  

Connoley is St. Louis’ sole representative among the final round of nominees, but that only underlines the scale of his achievement – with so much competition, making it past the semifinalist stage to an elite final group of five or so nominees is extremely difficult. The nine other St. Louis-area chefs, restaurateurs and venues who were named as JBF semifinalists in January were: 

·      Best New Restaurant: Mainlander

·      Best New Restaurant: Sado

·      Outstanding Restaurateur: Michael and Tara Gallina and Aaron Martinez of Take Root Hospitality 

·      Best Chef, Midwest: Loryn Nalic of Balkan Treat Box and Telva at the Ridge 

·      Best Chef, Midwest: Philip Day of Root Food + Wine

·      Outstanding Bakery: Simone Faure’s La Patisserie Chouquette 

·      Outstanding Bar: Scratch Brewing Co.

This is Connoley’s first final-round nomination in the JBF awards. After being a semifinalist several times before, he said he’s thrilled to have pushed on to that final round. “I don't know what we did,” he said. “I think the job of a chef is to build a team and surround yourself by amazing people and give them what they need to fly. And that's what we've really been working on at Bulrush, sometimes better than others, but right now I think we're hitting it. I told my team last week that regardless of the outcome, I know we have done our absolute best, every single plate, every single night for months and months now, and so if we don't [get nominated], it’s not because of what we've not done well, it’s because someone’s done better than what we have done.”