It's like the Oscars, the Heisman and the Rose Festival Queen announcement for Portland — all rolled into one.

Who will win Best Chef Northwest?

The James Beard Award this week announced its semifinalists for several categories, and not surprisingly, Portland's chefs, restaurants, bakeries and bars are up against heavy hitters from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York City and every other major U.S. city.

Best Chef Northwest is the most competitive category, with seven Portland chefs in the running: Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton (nominated as a pair), of Ox; Kevin Gibson of Davenport; Gregory Gourdet of Departure; Trent Pierce of Roe; Sarah Pliner of Aviary; Ryan Roadhouse of Nodoguro; and Justin Woodward of Castagna.

Portland has a single nominee in a few other categories: Tim Healea of Little T American Baker for Outstanding Baker; Clyde Common for Outstanding Bar Program; Kristen Murray of Måurice for Outstanding Pastry Chef; and Andy Ricker of Pok Pok for Outstanding Chef.

It's a wonder that just two Portland restaurants are in the running for Best New Restaurant. Both Kachka, a Russian restaurant, and Langbaan, a Thai restaurant, are tiny spots in Southeast Portland that opened last spring offering truly authentic regional fare.

Portland's Naomi Pomeroy took home Best Chef Northwest last year after three years as a nominee. John Gorham of Toro Bravo and Aaron Barnett of Restaurant St. Jack were semi-finalists in 2011; plus three other nominees in 2011.

But as for winners of Best Chef Northwest, Portland has come up with just three winners: Andy Ricker of Pok Pok in 2011, Higgins in 2002 and Wildwood in 1998.

Portland isn't representing in all award categories this year, however.

There are no Portland contenders for Outstanding Restaurant; Outstanding Restaurant Group; Outstanding Service; Outstanding Wine Program; Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional; and Rising Star Chef of the Year.

Now in its 25th year, the James Beard Awards began four years after the James Beard Foundation was established. The Foundation holds an online open call for entries in mid-October each year.

This year 34,000 entries were received. A committee reviews the list to determine eligibility and regional representation, then produces a nominating ballot that with semifinalists in 21 restarurant and chef categories.

The ballot is sent to an independent volunteer panel of 600 judges from across the country, including regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators and past James Beard Award winners.

The panelists vote to determine the final five nominees in each category, and judges vote to select the winners.

Final nominees in the chef and restaurant categories will be announced March 24 at the James Beard House in New York City, named of course for Portland's own foodie pioneer.

Winners will accept their awards May 4 at the 2015 James Beard Awards gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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