Local BBQ pitmaster falls short of cooking awards finals

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A local 82-year-old part-time pitmaster did not make the finals for a prestigious James Beard award — called the “Oscars of the food world” — for best chef in the Southwest, but it won’t make much of a difference to her.

“Well that’s OK,” Tootsie Tomanetz said when KXAN told her she didn’t make the list of finalists announced Wednesday. “There’s another year coming up.”

Reached by phone, Tootsie, the famed pitmaster at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington — named the best barbecue in the state by Texas Monthly — was enjoying a bit of time off from her day job. (Giddings ISD, where she works maintenance 30 hours a week, is on spring break this week.)

“It’s just one of those things,” Tomanetz, who cooks professionally just one day a week and didn’t know about the awards until she became one of 20 semifinalists last month, said. “We’re still happy with the work we’re doing, and, like I said, we’re just going to keep our fires burning.”

Three Texas chefs, including two in Austin, did make the top five and will vie for the coveted award: Michael Fojtasek, chef at Olamaie, and Barley Swine’s chef Bryce Gilmore made the list. Steve McHugh, the chef at Cured in San Antonio, rounds out the Lone Star State trio on the list.

This is Gilmore’s sixth year in a row making the finals and McHugh’s third. Texas chefs have been named best chef in the southwest, an area that includes five other states, the last four years running, including a win in 2015 for Austin’s Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.

The 2018 awards ceremony will be held in May.

“At least Texas got on the map” this year, Tootsie said. She told KXAN it was an honor to make it as far as she did in the contest she wasn’t aware she was in until recently.

Expect her to be back at the pits starting at 2 a.m. Saturday to start cooking between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds of meat. Don’t expect the supply to last much past noon. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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