Bad Saint’s Tom Cunanan wins ‘Best Chef’ at James Beard Awards

Bad Saint’s Tom Cunanan at the James Beard Awards on Monday, May 6. | Photo from Instagram/@beardfoundation

THE third time’s a charm for Filipino American chef Tom Cunanan of Washington, DC’s Bad Saint who finally won as Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic at the James Beard Awards held Monday night, May 6 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. He was also previously nominated in 2017 and 2018.

The awards, presented to recognize culinary professionals in the United States, are sometimes called the “Oscars” of the food world.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be up here,” Cunanan said during his acceptance speech, according to the Washingtonian.

Cunanan co-owns the restaurant with Genevieve Villamora and Nick Pimentel and collectively, they came up with the menu that has captivated both diners and food critics alike. Bad Saint is named after St. Malo, Louisiana, where the first Filipinos settled in the United States.

He was one of four Filipino Americans in the running for James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Restaurant and Chef Awards, along with République’s Margarita Manzke who made a return appearance in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category, Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon’s new restaurant in Hawai’i called Lineage, which was up for Best New Restaurant and Maharlika & Jeepney owner Nicole Ponseca who was nominated for “I Am Filipino,” the book she wrote with Chef Miguel Trinidad.

In an Instagram post, the official account of Bad Saint congratulated their beloved Cunanan and said, “His creativity, vision, and superlative food are the beating heart of this restaurant.”

Bad Saint announced last March that they will be open for dinner seven days a week in April. This announcement came after the news that it is now accepting limited reservations, which means that diners do not have to wait outside for hours, although there will be seats available for walk-in customers.

Cunanan was also named Star Chefs D.C.-Chesapeake Rising Star in 2018 and Eater named Bad Saint as one of America’s 38 essential restaurants.

The Eater blurb mentioned the challenge to this 24-seater dining destination: its no reservations policy. That aside, eating at Bad Saint is a must and as Bill Addison, the new Los Angeles Times food critic wrote last year, “The payoff: Tom Cunanan’s peerless Filipino cuisine. Inspirations like piniritong alimasag (fried soft-shell crab in spicy crab-fat sauce) also brilliantly signal the Chesapeake region in which he cooks.”

On May 18, Cunanan will participate in the Los Angeles Food Bowl’s “Filipino Garage Party,” hosted by Angela Dimayuga, the creative director of food and culture at Standard International, along with other Fil-Am chefs, including LA-based Russell Victorioso (Café Birdie) and Manila-based JP Anglo (Sarsa). On May 20, he and Sarsa will be part of “Tres Pares” at Ma’am Sir with its chef/owner Charles Olalia.

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at

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