Chicago’s Erick Williams wins best chef Great Lakes region at James Beard Awards

Considered to be the Oscars of the culinary industry, the coveted awards each year honor the nation’s best chefs, restaurants, restaurateurs, mixologists, bakers, cookbook authors, food writers and more.

SHARE Chicago’s Erick Williams wins best chef Great Lakes region at James Beard Awards
Chef Erick Williams of Chicago’s Virtue Restaurant & Bar accepts the James Beard Award for best chef Great Lakes Region on Monday night at the Lyric Opera House. 

Chef Erick Williams of Chicago’s Virtue Restaurant & Bar accepts the James Beard Award for best chef Great Lakes Region on Monday night at the Lyric Opera House.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The James Beard Awards gala returned to Chicago on Monday night, with plenty of black-tie glitz and glamour after a pandemic-forced two-year hiatus and time spent by the James Beard Foundation re-examining the issues of diversity and inclusion among the awards process.

Considered to be the Oscars of the culinary industry, the coveted awards each year honor the nation’s best chefs, restaurants, restaurateurs, mixologists, bakers, cookbook authors, food writers and more.

Though Chicago had nominees in six categories, on this night, only one local recipient would be named.

Chicago chefs took four of five nominations in the category of best chef Great Lakes region, with Erick Williams of Virtue Restaurant & Bar in Hyde Park emerging victorious.

The award medallion was presented to Williams in the opera house by actor Jeremy Allen White, star of the upcoming Chicago-centric FX series “The Bear,”with an assist from Jeremiah Paprocki at Wrigley Field, whose announcer voice was put to good use reading off the nominees in the category.

“I thank God. I’m very thankful for my ancestors, who worked tirelessly to create opportunities for equity and inclusion way before that was a trending topic,” Williams said in accepting the award medallion.“I didn’t get here of myself or by myself. I got here by way of my community, my culture and the many trailblazers that were looked over and discarded and discounted, that allowed me to have a path and recipes and ingenuity and the confidence to create food day in and day out that feeds the heart, mind, spirit and soul.”

His Chicago competition in the category came from Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, Noah Sandoval of Oriole, and John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth. The category recognizes chefs from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

Though dark skies, torrential downpours, tornado warnings and sirens filled the Chicago-area skies as the evening began, the event inside the spacious confines of the Lyric Opera House carried on as scheduled.

The evening got off to a humorous start, courtesy of host Kwame Onwuachi and his opening monologue.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to host [the James Beard Awards] until I saw Chris Rock,” said the actor-chef.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was in attendance for the gala evening, presenting welcoming remarks to the packed auditorium.

“This year’s award’s theme is ‘Gather for Good,’ which is particularly fitting for our city,” Lightfoot said. “Every day our food community gathers to bring good to their patrons ... to spread good through food or acts of service.”

Kris Moon, president and CEO of the James Beard Foundation (from left), Clare Reichenbach, executive officer of the James Beard Foundation, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago’s first lady Amy Eshleman, Sam Toia, President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, and Mary Kay Bonoma, executive vice president of the Illinois Restaurant Association are photographed on the red carpet at the 2022 James Beard Awards on Monday night.

Kris Moon, president and CEO of the James Beard Foundation (from left), Clare Reichenbach, executive officer of the James Beard Foundation, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago’s first lady Amy Eshleman, Sam Toia, President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, and Mary Kay Bonoma, executive vice president of the Illinois Restaurant Association are photographed on the red carpet at the 2022 James Beard Awards on Monday night.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

In the category of outstanding chef the award went to Mashama Bailey of The Grey restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, besting nominee Jason Vincent of the Logan Square restaurant Giant. Bailey took home the award in 2019 as well.

In the category of outstanding restaurant, the Chicago contemporary Korean icon and Michelin-starred Parachute, helmed by chefs Beverly Kim and her husband Johnny Clark, was bested by the Asheville, North Carolina, eatery Chai Pani.

Chicago’s Kasama, specializing in elevated Filipino cuisine, lost out to the Minneapolis-based Owamni in the category of best new restaurant.

The Edgewater queer cocktail bar Nobody’s Darling was shut out in the category of outstanding bar program. The Black women-owned, women-forward bar was a nominee in its first year of operation. Julep of Houston, Texas, took the top honors in the category.

Chicago’s Maya-Camille Broussard of Justice of the Pies was bested by Don Guerra of Tucson’s Barrio Bread in the category of outstanding baker.

Legendary chef Martin Yan accepts the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago on Monday night. | YouTube/James Beard Foundation

Legendary chef Martin Yan accepts the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago on Monday night.

YouTube/James Beard Foundation

Celebrity chef/TV host/cookbook author Martin Yan received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for a “lifetime body of work [that] has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way we eat, cook, and/or think about food in America.” Yan is perhaps most known for his cooking show “Yan Can Cook,” which spawned 3,500 episodes since its debut in 1978.

In his acceptance remarks, Yan praised Chicago’s culinary scene and noted he would be heading to one of chef Rick Bayless’ restaurants tomorrow for lunch.

Chicago’s Erika Allen, co-founder and operations CEO of Urban Growers Collective, a South Side-based nonprofit farm, was awarded a 2022 Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation for her work to create a more equitable, healthy and just local food system.

James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, culinary historian, and filmmaker Grace Young received the Humanitarian of the Year Award for her work to save America’s Chinatowns amid Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday at the James Beard Media Awards ceremony held at Columbia College Chicago, Julia Momosé —the Windy City’s mixologist extraordinaire and owner of the uber-tony Kumiko cocktail/dining bar in the West Loop —and co-author/James Beard Award nominee Emma Janzen took home the top honors for their new book, “The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques, and Recipes”in the category of beverage with recipes books.

Former La Salle Street trial lawyer and TikTok celebrity Joanne Lee Molinaro won for her national bestseller “Korean Vegan Cookbook” in the category of vegetable-focused cooking.

The Latest
Prosecutors are seeking at least 25 years in prison for R. Kelly, who was convicted of sex trafficking last year in New York.
The arrangement, in an acknowledgement of continued hybrid work, marks a downsizing from the paper’s home on the Near West Side.
College coaches were in the gym watching the two players who, in the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, have raised their stock the most in June: Bolingbrook’s Mekhi Cooper and Macaleab Rich of East St. Louis.
Amy Brown, 22, was in a fight in the 5300 block of South Carpenter Street when she was stabbed in the chest and arms, police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.
They pushed a man to the ground and beat him under the platform in the 900 block of West Belmont early Wednesday. Then they went to the platform and beat another man, police say.