The James Beard Foundation, a national non-profit culinary arts organization, announced Houston’s beloved cocktail bar Julep as the winner of the national Outstanding Bar Program category at its 2022 Beard Awards ceremony on Monday, June 13.
Julep owner and award-winning mixologist Alba Huerta took the stage with her “girl gang,” for extra support to accept the only award of the night to go to a Houston establishment and the city’s first-ever award in a national category in Beard Awards’ history.
Though she didn’t prepare a speech (“I was trying to get into this dress and these shoes,” she said), Huerta gave a heartfelt thanks to the Beard Foundation for recognizing the bar industry — a form of culinary art that Huerta noted doesn’t always receive equal attention — and, of course, her Texas hometown.
“Thank you to my home city of Houston, Texas, for loving immigrants — for loving immigrants like me, like my family — and welcoming us and giving us the path to opening our own businesses,” Huerta said during the event, which was livestreamed on Twitter.
For Outstanding Bar Program: Julep in Houston #jbfa— James Beard Foundation (@beardfoundation) June 13, 2022
“Thank you to my city of Houston, Texas for loving immigrants. For loving immigrants like me, like my family, welcoming us, and giving us the path to opening our own businesses.”—Alba Huerta of Julep, 2022 #jbfa Outstanding Bar Program winner. pic.twitter.com/8aJokCh5nX— James Beard Foundation (@beardfoundation) June 14, 2022
Huerta also shouted out other Houston nominees and supporters who were present at the event, and her Julep staff, which she noted was hosting a 25-cent oyster party back home in celebration of the awards.
“They’re the most talented, committed group of people,” Huerta said.
The swanky bar, known for its many variations of the julep cocktails, was also named No. 46 on North America’s 50 Best bars list and was the only Texas bar featured. The annual ranking by the 50 Best organization, which features bars across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, was announced Tuesday, June 7, in New York.
Its recent James Beard Award, however, is especially noteworthy — not only because the James Beard Awards are comparable to Oscar night of the culinary industry, but also because this is the city’s first James Beard Award ever in a national category and the only one to go to a Houstonian this year.
Hugo Ortego, the chef behind Hugo’s and Xochi, won the last James Beard Award in 2017 in the Best Chef Southwest category, which was a multi-state award. Previous winners in the same category include Justin Yu, who won in 2016, Chris Shepherd in 2014, and Robert Del Grande in 1992.
Since then, Houston has received several nominations and has gotten closer to more bragging rights. This year alone, there were 13 Houston area semifinalists, which were then voted down to six finalists — four of whom were in the national categories.
Austin, however, had an impressive showing. Nixta Taqueria chef and co-owner Edgar Rico won the emerging chef category and El Naranjo chef and co-owner Iliana de la Vega won the first-ever Best Chef: Texas category.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.