GREENVILLE — The Greenville chef and restaurant owner has been named to the prestigious 2023 James Beard semi-finalist list.
Dayna Lee-Marquez, owner of Comal 864, was named a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: Southeast.
The local restaurant owner started popping up years ago and will open a brick-and-mortar store on Woodside Avenue in the City View community west of downtown Greenville in November 2021.
She is one of 20 other chefs nominated in this category, which covers South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Two others from South Carolina were nominated in this category. Daniel “Dano” Heinze of Vern’s in Charleston and Jessica Shillato of Spotted Salamander in Columbia.
According to James, the Best Chef Award “sets high standards in culinary skills and leadership competence, helping create sustainable work cultures in their respective regions, while also contributing positively to the wider community.” It is awarded to the chef who is The Beard Foundation website.
Lee Marquez was in disbelief after hearing the news on January 25th.
“I was barely breathing half an hour ago,” she told The Post and Courier. “All the people on that list are people I look up to.”
Lee-Marquez is the only Greenville restaurant or chef on this year’s semi-finalist list.
Recent Greenville nominees in the past include Anchorage owners Greg McPhee and Mr. Crisp. Husk Greenville Executive Chef Jon Buck. David Porras, co-owner of Oak Hill Café & Farm. and his chef Adam Cooke, co-owner and executive of Topsoil Kitchen Market.
“My biggest shock was because I never thought I could or could do it,” said Lee Marquez. “And if I do, it’ll be like 10 years from now. It was not a place to take
Lee-Marquez created the Comal 864 from a pop-up concept that started with a breakfast burrito. Based on her culinary roots, imbued with the flavors and traditions of the Mexican border town of Brownsville, Texas, where she grew up, her cuisine comes from there.
Comal 864 has built a following with its small but soulful menu.
Biria quesi tacos, chorizo burgers, nopal tacos and more, all made from scratch the way Lee Marquez grew up.
“I don’t make super fine dining,” she said. “It’s just a home. We want you to feel at home, like you’re at Grandma’s house, like you’re at Abuela’s house.”
Since opening in the traditionally underprivileged community of Cityview, she has created a space for good food and community through her restaurant.
Each year, Comal hosts free holiday meals, court drives, school supplies drives, trash pick-ups, and other community-forward projects for our neighborhoods, ensuring that needs are not only seen, but answered.
Komal has operated on a prepayment model similar to that used by restaurants that previously lived in the building. Woodside Bistro has moved up the street to the Woodside Mill loft.
Customers can pay a little extra to fund free meals for those who may not have the money to pay for themselves.
The restaurant gave her the means to help in tangible ways.
“I don’t just cook, I serve. That’s the most important thing,” she said. “You need food or water. I can help. If you need medical care or need to find shelter resources, I can help. You need a jacket. I can help.”
In 2021, the James Beard Foundation will conduct an awards audit, then refresh and refine its mission to be more inclusive, from age to race, gender to restaurant type, and to examine the impact and focus of the entire community. I put on
“Obviously, food is very important,” she said. But at the end of the day, I know what it’s like to be in that space, and I want to help meet the needs. It was the easy way. ”
James Beard’s semi-finalists will be recognized in 23 categories, including a new award for bakery excellence.
Nominees will be announced on March 29, and winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef’s Awards Ceremony on June 5 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.
A full list of chef and restaurant semi-finalists can be found at https://www.jamesbeard.org/awards.
For more information about Comal 864, please visit https://comal864.com/.