Raleigh, N.C. — Durham chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast on Monday night.
Moore was a semi-finalist for the honor in 2020. Moore opened Saltbox Seafood on North Mangum Street in 2012. A second location followed at 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. in 2017. The original location closed its doors in 2021.
In his acceptance speech, Moore thanked his wife of 30 years, Norma, his children and his restaurant family.
“I have five of the most superior employees one could ever have and they are all female,” Moore said.
Moore also shouted out “his home team” of North Carolina James Beard finalists including Raleigh’s Cheetie Kumar and Alley Twenty Six owner Shannon Healy. Kumar was a finalist in the same category as Moore, while Healy’s Alley Twenty Six was a finalist for Outstanding Bar Program.
Moore also gave a shout out to the “Bull City.”
“I’ve been in the business for awhile and I’ve spent a lot of time working in a lot of different environments, it’s a beautiful thing to be recognized for what I am doing currently,” Moore said.
Moore also celebrated the fishing community, specifically North Carolina “fisherfolk,” which includes fishermen and women.
“I opened up a space on the side of the road that was 205 square-feet. The menu was simple; I wrote it on the chalkboard. I got burned out being the executive chef here and the executive chef there, so my restaurant, Saltbox, was like my apprenticeship to entrepreneurship and I put my heart and soul into it.”
In an interview with WRAL in 2020, Moore described his culinary journey, which took him across the globe.
Moore almost didn’t become a chef. He started out wanting to become an artist.
“I was going to go to school for art. That’s all I did in high school,” Moore said. “I got a scholarship to go to East Carolina University, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to go to school.”
Instead, Moore joined the U.S. Army and became a cook, where he said a good meal could boost morale.
“As a military cook, you took pride in the idea,” he said.
After a decade with the Army, Moore eventually went to the Culinary Institute of America. Internationally, Moore has cooked in Paris, Singapore and Toronto. Stateside he cooked for years in Chicago and Washington D.C.
“I just want to make sure that I always stayed diversified,” Moore said.
The James Beard Award winners were announced during a gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. This year’s in-person event is the first since 2019.
Several North Carolina restaurants and chefs were finalists for national James Beard Awards on Monday night.
Cúrate in Asheville received a national James Beard Award for Outstanding Hospitality.
Durham’s Alley Twenty Six was the first North Carolina bar or restaurant to be named a finalist for Outstanding Bar Program in the country. Julep in Houston took home of the honor.
“We’re just incredibly proud to get to carry the flag for North Carolina,” owner Shannon Healy told WRAL earlier this month. “Being the first in this category for North Carolina, we get to represent other outstanding bar programs in the state.”
Cleophus Hethington, the chef of Benne on Eagle in Asheville, was a finalist for Emerging Chef. The award was presented to Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria in Austin, Texas.
Chai Pani in Asheville won for Outstanding Restaurant.
North Carolina chefs have a history of winning James Beard Awards. Lantern’s Andrea Reusing won best chef in the southeast in 2011. Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill won the same honor in 2000. Karen and Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill won outstanding pastry chef in 2003.
Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen, who won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2019, won the award for best chef in the southeast in 2014.