Washington DC's Michael Rafidi Wins 2024 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award

The winners of the prestigious James Beard Awards have just been announced for 2024, and Washington D.C.'s Michael Rafidi is taking home the grand prize Outstanding Chef award. The Maryland-born Palestinian-American dedicated the award "to Palestinians, and all the people out there, whether it's here, Palestine, or all over the world," per Axios DC. His restaurant, Albi, is loved for its Arab-American fare which specializes in open-fire charcoal cooking using Old World recipes from Rafidi's rich family history.

Albi is a relatively new restaurant, having opened in the economically uncertain year of 2020. Rafidi's reputation in the D.C. area launched him into the semifinals for this very same award back in 2022 and into the finals in 2023, which makes this year's success the culmination of several years' hard work. Tasting Corner noticed the restaurant last year when we were searching for exceptional tartare dishes across the U.S., thanks to Albi's smoked carrot kibbeh naya. 

Combined with the rest of the menu, Albi was also an easy restaurant to recommend for date night if you're in the Washington D.C. area. This James Beard Outstanding Chef award is arguably Rafidi's greatest achievement to date, but it's just one of many accomplishments the chef can boast – not the least of which is his Michelin star rating, which he has held onto since first acquiring it back in 2022. It just goes to show that good food will not go unnoticed for long.

Chef Michael Rafidi is a master of his craft

Although Albi is the star of the show, Michael Rafidi opened a second restaurant right next door to Albi in 2022 called Yellow, which has a sort of French-Arab fusion vibe. It's a cafe with pastries and drinks that combines the early years of Rafidi's career making French food with his love for Palestinian cuisine. Before opening Albi, Rafidi was a globe-trotting chef working everywhere from the French restaurant RN74 in San Francisco to Talula's Garden in Philadelphia to the highly influential Noma in Copenhagen. 

All this work was garnering him attention even before he had pulled the trigger and opened his own brick and mortar. Back in 2017, Eater D.C. named him the best chef in the city, and in 2018, he was a finalist for Rising Star Chef. The accolades have only gained momentum since Albi opened its doors. The James Beard Awards are an interesting beast widely compared to other big awards ceremonies like the Oscars or Grammys. The James Beard judges are a partly anonymous committee and the nominees are voluntarily submitted to the organization for review. 

The chair for this year's award was Tanya Holland, who, as a board member in 2023, commented at the time on the organization's strange interrogations involving anonymous ethics complaints. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raging on, there may be some who are wondering about the politicization of the James Beard Awards given Rafidi's heritage. It likely goes without saying, but Rafidi's extensive accomplishments should quell any such doubts.