A husband-and-wife tortilla-making duo in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood are among semifinalists for one of the world’s most-prestigious accolades for restaurants and chefs: a James Beard Award.
Marissa and Mark Gencarelli, co-founders of Yoli Tortilleria, were announced Wednesday as semifinalists for the James Beard “Outstanding Baker” honor. Twenty restaurants from across the country are now in consideration for the 2022 award.
The young brand — which opened its operation on the corner of 17th and Jefferson streets in summer 2020 — focuses on corn tortillas inspired by Marissa Gencarelli’s roots in Sonora, Mexico, where “most Mexican places and tortillerias, for some reason, always land in a tiny little corner,” she told Startland News at the time.
“[The tortilleria] in my particular hometown, they just hand you a warm tortilla as soon as you get in. And so, we envisioned that experience,” Gencarelli explained.
“Sometimes we see people putting a tortilla under their mask and then getting a big smile.”
Click here to explore Yoli Tortilleria’s products.
“It’s a very important ingredient that a lot of people kind of dismiss as just a plate, but it really should enhance the whole experience of what you’re eating,” Gencarelli said of the critical role the tortilla plays in any traditional Mexican meal.
In addition to Yoli Tortilleria, another Kansas City restauranteur — Carl Thorne-Thomsen at Story in Prairie Village — was named a semifinalist for “Best Chef: Midwest,” which includes Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Thorne-Thomsen was also a semifinalist in 2013.
Restaurant and chef award nominees are expected to be revealed March 16. Winners are set to be celebrated June 13 at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The James Beard Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind the honors, has not awarded winners since 2019 — taking a hiatus for self-reflection that would: remove any systemic bias in the selection process; increase the diversity of the voting body; ensure that communities far and wide know about the awards and how eligible candidates may apply; and increase transparency in how the awards function.
Click here to learn more about the James Beard Foundation’s internal audit.
The organization also wanted the awards more outwardly align with the foundation’s mission and values: to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity, and sustainability.
“The foundation has highlighted the centrality of food culture in our daily lives and is committed to supporting a resilient and flourishing industry that honors its diverse communities,” the James Beard Foundation said. “By amplifying new voices, celebrating those leading the way, and supporting those on the path to do so, the foundation is working to create a more equitable and sustainable future.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.