The “Oscars of the food world” — officially known as the James Beard Awards — came to town Monday night, and a handful of Chicago’s culinary rock stars went home with the coveted medallions in tow.
The awards, recognizing the best of the best in the country’s food industry (including chefs, restaurants, design, philanthropic work and lifetime achievement), were handed out at a gala black-tie ceremony at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House.
Among the Chicago winners:
— The husband-and-wife team of Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of the critically acclaimed Parachute topped the all-Chicago-nominees category of best chef Great Lakes region. They bested their Windy City counterparts, which included Diana Davila of Mi Tocaya Antojeria, Noah Sandoval of Oriole, David and Anna Posey of Elske, Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, and Lee Wolen of Boka. Chicago chefs have dominated this category for more than a decade in nominations and wins.
— Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread took home top honors in the outstanding baker category. In his acceptance speech, Wade urged all to embrace a sustainable food/farming mindset, remarking: “We have one food system. And It’s time we started working together to cultivate a healthy food system for all.”
— Outstanding restaurateur honors went to Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of the Boka Restaurant Group (Boka, Girl & the Goat, Momotaro, and others.) Pointing to his longtime business partner and close friend, Katz said of Boehm: “This hair has opened so many doors for us!” On an emotional note, Katz added: “At the beginning of Boka, Kevin Boehm and I built the architecture of this company on the back of cocktail napkins. The challenge was finding chefs who would take a chance on us.”
— In the category of outstanding restaurant design (76 seats and over), the award went to the firm of Parts and Labor Design for Pacific Standard Time on West Erie Street.
It was a bittersweet evening, however, as other Chicagoans were shut out of their respective categories, including Meg Galus (for outstanding pastry chef); Alisha Elenz, chef at mfk. (for Rising Star chef of the year; Lost Lake (outstanding bar program); Spiaggia (outstanding wine program), and Land and Sea Dept. (restaurant design, for Lonesome Rose restaurant on North California Avenue).
It also marked the third year in a row that Chicago chefs/restaurants did not garner nominations in other key national categories including outstanding chef, outstanding restaurant and best new restaurant.
The night also brought out Mayor Emanuel, who thanked the James Beard Foundation and “welcomed them home to Chicago,” and Chicago’s culinary community for their philanthropic programs with Chicago Public Schools students. He also took the opportunity to slam President Trump for serving fast food to college championship sports teams. “When you have a guest at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, don’t serve them fast food,” a dour Emanuel remarked amid hearty applause. “The Rising Chef [Kwame Onwuachi] just got an award, and he’s in D.C. Get Uber [Eats] he’ll bring it over. Fast food does not belong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And besides that you don’t belong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, either. Listen, I’m out in two weeks, they can throw me out now.”
Hosted for a second time since 2017 by actor/cooking blogger Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Modern Family”), the who’s who of the nation’s culinary scene gathered at the lavish Opera House in what is becoming a Chicago awards ceremony tradition. The awards will continue to be presented in Chicago through 2027, it was announced last year, extending the partnership between the City of Chicago and the James Beard Foundation past its previous agreement end date of 2021. The awards ceremony moved from New York to Chicago in 2015.
Here’s a list of the winners in 2019 James Beard Awards key categories:
Outstanding Restaurant: Zahav, Philadelphia
Best New Restaurant: Frenchette, New York
Outstanding Chef: Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Diner, Raleigh, North Carolina
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Kelly Fields of Willa Jean, New Orleans
Rising Star Chef of the Year: Kwame Onwuachi, Kith and Kin, Washington, D.C.
2019 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year: The Giving Kitchen, a non-profit organization providing emergency assistance to food service workers through financial support and a network of community resources
2019 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award: Patrick O’Connell, the three Michelin-starred chef for his four decades of culinary excellence at Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Virginia.
James Beard, who passed away in 1985, is considered to be the first celebrity chef in the U.S., hosting his own cooking show on NBC in 1946. He was a cookbook author, educator, mentor to a generation of chefs and champion of the American culinary industry. Sunday would have marked his 116th birthday.
“For those of you who don’t know what the Oscars are, they’re the James Beard Awards for films,” Tyler Ferguson quipped during his opening monologue.