Okay, I have spilled a lot of ink in this little handicapping

Okay, I have spilled a lot of ink in this little handicapping project for the upcoming James Beard Awards. In Part 1 I explained the nature of the game and talked about a couple of the big national races in which Seattle has a stake. Part 2 finished off most of the national awards, talked about the Outstanding Restaurant competition, and took care of one category in which I think this city has a decent chance. Part 3 cleaned up a bunch of the smaller awards and discussed Best New Restaurant–a highly competitive category every year.Today, I’m finishing the project with the one semifinal category that probably matters most of all to those living (and eating) in the Seattle area: Best Chef Northwest. This is one of ten categories that focuses on specific geographic areas and allows chefs who are ostensibly working with the same benefits and detriments (product availability, local income levels, temper of the dining public and availability of staff to name a few) to compete directly with each other–Southerners with Southerners, New Yorkers against New Yorkers and on like that.The Northwest region (at least as far as the James Beard Awards are concerned) covers Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, drawing on the best of the culinary talent that calls the area home. So without further ado, here we go…Award: Best Chef NorthwestLocal Favorites: Kevin Davis (Steelhead Diner), Matt Dillon (The Corson Building), Mark Fuller (Spring Hill), Ethan Stowell (Union), Jason Wilson (Crush), Rachel Yang (Joule).The Competition: Portland, basically, with seven of their own contenders vying for the same prize and bringing some serious weight to the board. I mean, right at the top, there’s Oswaldo Bibiano who came all the way from Guerrero, Mexico to do fine dining Mexican in the traditional style. Then there’s Naomi Pomeroy from Beast (which, according to Travel + Leisure, “isn’t so much a restaurant as a regularly occurring, eccentric dinner party in chef and co-owner Naomi Pomeroy’s exhibition kitchen.”), Gabriel Rucker from Le Pigeon with its pig’s feet and tongue and sweetbreads and Cathy Whims from Nostrana–the first big restaurant opened by a woman who is occasionally talked about like the Mario Batali of Portland, spreading the passion and traditions of serious Italian eats wherever she goes.The Field: Still, there are other cities in the mix here, too. I’ve heard of Jeff Drew and his Snake River Grill even if I’ve never eaten there; am intrigued by the American/French/Creole mix at Cafe Kandahar in Whitefish, Montana. And frankly, for the nominating body to choose a chef in Alaska (which they did with Guy Conley of Ginger in Anchorage)? That must mean it’s something truly special. Still, I’m sticking with the local talent on this one even if I am slightly confused by the fact that Jerry Traunfeld from Poppy made the list for Outstanding Chef overall (as in, the national competition), yet didn’t score a slot in the regional smack-down. Moving On To The Finals: It’ll be Seattle and Portland right to the wire, and my money is on Kevin Davis, Rachel Yang and Mark Fuller.Final Odds: Seattle, a lock to show, 2-1 to win it.And that’s all she wrote, folks. Keep an eye peeled for when the finalist list comes out in March when we get to play this whole game all over again.