MILWAUKEE — Culinary contenders from Wisconsin are semifinalists for nine James Beard Foundation awards this year.

Gregory León is the owner and chef of Amilinda in downtown Milwaukee. He’s been nominated for Best Chef in the Midwest for the past few years by the James Beard Foundation and said he didn’t expect a nomination this year — let alone, one at the national level for Outstanding Chef.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet; I have moments where I’m overcome with joy and start crying and lots of nerves, but very surprised, very surprised and very humbled by it,” said León.

Gregory León, James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for Outstanding Chef (Spectrum News 1/Wendy Strong)

León said when he moved to the city he was pleasantly surprised by the sense of community in Milwaukee’s culinary industry.

He said the willingness of chefs to mentor their staffs is part of both the city and state’s growing success.

“When we are all doing great, it’s beneficial again for everybody. We all want to help each other, we want to see everybody succeed, we want to see everybody’s restaurant be successful and profitable. So it’s great we are all willing to help each other,” said León.

Amilinda cook Zachery Myers. (Spectrum News 1/Wendy Strong)

Trevor Carper is León’s sous chef. He’s been in his position for less than a year, but said he has already grown his skill set to an entirely new level.

“He’s very, very intent on making sure that I have been taught correctly, showing me all sorts of stuff. I’ve leveled up in my career, just the last nine months so much, just by being around him. And his energy and willingness to teach is incredible,” said Carper.

(Spectrum News 1/Wendy Strong)

Carper said as he builds his career, he’s excited to help put the state’s culinary scene on the map.

“I think the culture of the Midwest, and specifically Wisconsin, [are] a growing food scene like that,” said Carper.

(Spectrum News 1/Wendy Strong)

León said he hopes his success in the industry will help the next generation of chefs continue to build Wisconsin’s food scene and keep this new tradition of award-winning food here in the Badger State.

“Some of these great young chefs that we have both here in Milwaukee and in the state move onto the next level and open their own establishment and just really hone their craft and do great things for the state,” said León.

The James Beard finalists will be announced on Wednesday, April 3l winners will be announced and celebrated at the James Beard Awards on June 10 in Chicago.