SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls restaurant owner will find out in June whether she’s the winner of a prestigious culinary award. Sanaa Abourezk, the owner of Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean, is one of the finalists for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest. Abourezk is competing, in a way, against pop singer Taylor Swift. Abourezk says all this national recognition is a bittersweet honor for her.
Sanaa Abourezk already has a spot picked out in her restaurant to display the Top Chef in the Midwest Award should she win.
“So this way, I can see it from the kitchen, my staff can see it, so they’re doing good, customers they can see it, and also so tall people can see it,” (laughs) Abourezk said.
Abourezk found out she was a finalist for the award from her daughter.
“When she called me during the day, like something wrong? So I was like, hello? Mom, I’m fine. Congratulations, you just won. I didn’t see anything. They sent the email to her,” Abourezk said.
The James Beard Foundation people told Abourezk to find a hotel room as quickly as possible in Chicago where the award ceremony will take place in June, because a Taylor Swift concert will be taking place there around the same time.
“It’s very hard to compete with Taylor Swift, I have to tell you. I had to beg, some connection, I called the hotel and I begged them because I was there three weeks ago. Explained the whole thing. They put me in one room. High price mind you,” Abourezk said.
Abourezk’s regulars are excited for her, but not surprised, that she’s in the running for top chef.
“She’s always here and the food is really fresh and it’s all made from scratch, it’s just perfect,” regular customer Davis Hanson said.
But the recognition comes as Abourezk grieves the death of her husband, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk, who died just over a month ago.
“He was my cheerleader to start with and he would always tell people, when we traveled, you have to try my wife’s food, and now… he would be very happy,” Abourezk said.
Abourezk shared the good news with her late husband, in her own way.
“I went to his room, his empty room, and I said, hey Jim, I won the James Beard,” Abourezk said.
Jim Abourezk’s empty chair in the restaurant is a constant reminder to Sanaa of her biggest cheerleader and most loyal customer.
“Yeah, it’s going to be hard, but life you know… will go on,” Abourezk said.
Sanaa said she used up her marketing budget for the year, just to pay for two nights at the hotel.