HomeCity NewsLCF Resident Receives Prestigious James Beard Award

LCF Resident Receives Prestigious James Beard Award

La Cañada Flintridge resident Lord Maynard Llera, chef and restaurant owner of Kuya Lord in Los Angeles, was recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation after being named Best Chef in California by the organization.

“It was surreal,” Llera told the Outlook Valley Sun.  “At the same time, it [is] starting to sink in to me that I won the James Beard award. I felt proud that I represented my Filipino culture through my food and [get to bring] this prestigious award to Los Angeles as Best Chef of California.”

The James Beard Award recognizes exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive, according to a press release from the James Beard Foundation.

Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards are among the nation’s most prestigious honors recognizing leaders in the culinary and food media industries.

The Best Chef award is given to chefs who set high standards in their culinary skills and leadership abilities, and who are making efforts to help create a sustainable work culture in their respective regions, while contributing positively to their broader community. 

Llera said that he never thought he would win an award like this. 

“I’m only doing a small fast casual, counter service restaurant,” he said. “I thought about this award being only for more upscale restaurants.” 

<br><em>Chef Lord Maynard Llera was shocked that he won his first James Beard Award and said that his restaurant Kuya Lord has been super busy since <em>

Just being selected as one of the semifinalists was an award for Llera.

“This recognition is not just a testament to my individual efforts and hard work, but a reflection of the support, encouragement and collaboration from many wonderful people in my life,” Llera wrote on Instagram.

In 2019, Llera launched his Kuya Lord pop-ups that brought his spin on Southern Tagalog cuisine to wine bars, breweries, food events and private dining rooms, reads the Kuya Lord website. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Llera continued his love for cooking and started making meals out of his garage for the community. The pop-ups eventually took off, and Llera transformed his garage into a fully functional kitchen to cook up a bigger menu and pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant, Kuya Lord.

With the catchy tagline, “Filipino food done My Way,” Kuya Lord opened in 2022 and is now a full-fledged restaurant located at 5003 Melrose Ave. near East Hollywood. It features regional Filipino dishes that Llera grew up eating in Lucena City in the Quezon Province of the Philippines. The menu showcases a variety of Filipino-inspired dishes that can be seen in categories like rice bowls, noodles and “Kuya Trays.”

Kuya Lord is on the L.A. Times 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list for two consecutive years in 2022 and 2023. The restaurant is also on the Bon Appétit’s 24 Best New Restaurants list for 2023. 

“I’ve been cooking here in America, particularly here in L.A. for 20 years,” said Llera. “Since then, I’ve been preparing myself to open my own take on Filipino cuisine. Throughout the years, I have worked and honed my skills with the best restaurants and chefs in L.A. with the understanding of Filipino cookery from my hometown.”

Llera came to the U.S. in 2004 to study culinary arts, with the ultimate goal of opening his own restaurant. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of American in New York and later moved to Los Angeles.

The winners for the 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef were announced on June 10, according to a statement from the James Beard Foundation.

The winners were announced during a live ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago co-hosted by Nyesha Arrington, chef, restaurateur, and co-host of FOX’s Next Level Chef; Richard Blais, chef, James Beard Award–nominated author, and co-host of FOX’s Next Level Chef; Amanda Freitag, chef, author, and judge on Food Network’s Chopped, and Marcus Samuelsson, James Beard Award–winning chef, restaurateur, and author.

“Tonight, we raise a glass to the 2024 Restaurant and Chef Award winners for their phenomenal achievements,” said Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, at the event. “These remarkable individuals embody the very essence of our Good Food for Good ethos, showcasing exceptional talent, unwavering dedication to their craft, and a steadfast commitment to elevating the industry. With their passion, skill, and leadership, they are shaping our nation’s dining landscape and setting a new standard for culinary excellence.”

Since receiving his award, Llera said that the restaurant has gotten very busy. He has  outlined some new goals, which include a more sit-down, full-service restaurant serving more elevated Filipino food. 

“The reason why I opened a Filipino restaurant focused on regional cuisine is to showcase the food specialties from my home province and for the non-Filipinos to know and learn that there are other great Filipino dishes from different regions in the Philippines that they have to try and enjoy,” he said. “I hope this award will help not only my restaurant but for all existing and future Filipino restaurants to be accepted by Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. I hope one day our cuisine will be normalized like Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian [and] French cuisines.”

Llera shared some advice for other chefs, especially in California, who are working to become the next big thing.

“Work harder, be patient, stay hungry to learn, [have] self-motivation and most of all stay humble,” he said.

Lastly, Llera thanked his wife, Gigi Regudo-Llera, for being his No. 1 supporter, and his former boss and mentor chef Ori Menashe for never doubting his talents and skills. 

“To everyone who has been part of my journey, thank you,” Llera said on Instagram. “Each of you has played a significant role in helping me reach this point.”

First published in the June 20 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

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