Chicago’s James Beard Award winners: Chefs from Kasama, Virtue restaurants take home 2023 honors

The awards, considered the Oscars of the culinary world, were presented Monday night at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House. We have the complete list of winners.

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Chef/restaurateur Tim Flores and his wife/partner chef/restaurateur Genie Kwon of Kasama restaurant in east Ukrainian Village are photographed backstage at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago after accepting the James Beard Award for best chef Great Lakes region on Monday night.

Chef/restaurateur Tim Flores and his wife/partner chef/restaurateur Genie Kwon of Kasama restaurant in east Ukrainian Village are photographed backstage at the Lyric Opera House in Chicago after accepting the James Beard Award for best chef Great Lakes region on Monday night.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The James Beard Awards, considered to be the Oscars of the culinary industry, were presented in a gala ceremony on Monday night at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House.

Early in the evening, Chicago’s Damarr Brown, chef de cuisine at Hyde Park’s Virtue restaurant, took home the coveted honor for emerging chef of the year.

Chef Damarr Brown of Virtue restaurant greets the media after receiving the James Beard Award for emerging chef of the year in a gala ceremony at the Chicago Lyric Opera House on Monday night.

Chef Damarr Brown of Virtue restaurant greets the media Monday night after receiving the James Beard Award for emerging chef of the year in a gala ceremony at the Chicago Lyric Opera House.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“I want to thank God first. This is truly a blessing,” Brown said, as he accepted his award and thanked his team at the restaurant, his girlfriend, mother and grandmother. He gave a special shoutout to Erick Williams, chef and owner of Virtue, whom Brown called his mentor. “For the last 13 years you have been an example for me. I stand because you stood,” Brown said. Williams last year received the award for best chef Great Lakes region.

Chicago chefs/owners Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of the Michelin-starred, modern Filipino powerhouse Kasama in east Ukrainian Village, took home the award for best chef Great Lakes region, presented by Williams. The duo bested fellow Chicagoan, chef Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya Antojería, who was also nominated in the category.

“We have 46 incredible team members. They’re just people who want to take care of people, and everything has fallen into place,” Kwon remarked as she stepped up to the podium on stage, her voice cracking as she held back tears of joy.

Acknowledging Flores, her partner and husband, Kwan said: “We’ve pretty much been together every minute of every day for the past 8 years. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s been one crazy ride! ... We are so proud to represent Chicago.”

“I never thought I’d be cooking Filipino food until we opened Kasama,” Flores said. “To be recognized for cooking my mom’s food is insane.”

He elicited a loud roar of approval from the packed theater when he quipped: “My parents are in the Philippines right now on a beach somewhere drinking out of a coconut while I stand on this stage s- - - in my pants.”

Chicago’s Sepia restaurant lost out to The Quarry of Monson, Maine, in the category of outstanding hospitality, while Obelix, the modern French eatery in River North, was bested by Portland, Oregon’s, Kann restaurant in the best new restaurant category.

Co-hosts for the event honoring the best in chefs, restaurants and hospitality were chefs Eric Adjepong (“Top Chef” ), Esther Choi, cookbook writer; “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons; and chef/restaurateur Andrew Zimmern.

In his welcoming remarks, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, attending his first ceremony as the city’s leader, gave shoutouts to the myriad food cultures found throughout Chicago.

Mayor Brandon Johnson, (center) and his wife Stacie Rencher (right) join James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach on the red carpet for the James Beard Awards at the Chicago Lyric Opera House on Monday night.

James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach (from left) is joined on the red carpet for the James Beard Awards Monday by Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and his wife Stacie Rencher.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“Our food really is the soul of Chicago,” Johnson said. “This town has every kind of cuisine and flavor imaginable. Our reputation for food helps draw millions of visitors here each year. As mayor, I’m committed to working with our city’s restaurant industry and making sure that these vital spaces have everything they need to thrive. You’re the heart of the city, no doubt about it. I celebrate and uplift this important industry.”

Paying homage to Brown’s win earlier in the evening, Johnson quipped: “I’d be remiss if I did not recognize that when you go to Virtue, I can certainly vouch for the salmon steaks. You gotta check ‘em out. Congratulations, brother!”

In accepting her award for outstanding bakery, a new James Beard Awards category, co-owner Marissa Gencarelli of Yoli Tortelleria in Kansas City, Missouri, paid tribute to her late parents and her Mexican heritage.

“Thank you for helping me honor the very humble tortilla,” she said.

Also honored Monday night were the recipients of humanitarian of the year, awarded to Olivia Watkins and Karen Washington, co-founders of the Black Farmer Fund, and the Lifetime Achievement Award to multicookbook author, teacher and actress Madhur Jaffrey, CBE.

Esther Choi and Eric Adjepong, two of the co-hosts for the James Beard Awards gala ceremony, pose on the red carpet at the Chicago Lyric Opera House on Monday night.

Esther Choi and Eric Adjepong were two of the co-hosts of the James Beard Awards gala Monday at the Chicago Lyric Opera House.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

On Saturday night, the James Beard Media Awards honoring broadcast media, cookbook, and journalism nominees from across the nation were presented during a live ceremony at Columbia College Chicago. Leadership awards were presented in a special ceremony Sunday.

The James Beard Awards moved from their longtime home in New York to Chicago in 2015, where they have taken place every year since. Awards were not presented in 2020 and 2021 due to the shutdown of restaurants amid the pandemic, and allegations of underrepresentation of people of color.

A virtual showcase in 2021 celebrated past winners, and the nation’s culinary community as a whole as the foundation took a step back from the public ceremonies to overhaul its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, including a revamp of its overall mission and awards process. The full, in-person gala ceremony returned last year.

Chef Andrew Zimmern poses for the media on the red carpet for the James Beard Awards at the Chicago Lyric Opera House.

Chef Andrew Zimmern was another co-host of the James Beard Awards Monday night in Chicago.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Here’s the complete list of 2023 restaurant and chef award winners:

  • Outstanding Chef: Rob Rubba, Oyster Oyster, Washington, D.C.
  • Outstanding Restaurant: Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia
  • Best New Restaurant: Kann, Portland, Oregon
  • Outstanding Restaurateur: Ellen Yin, High Street Hospitality Group (Fork, a.kitchen + bar, High Street, and others), Philadelphia
  • Emerging Chef: Damarr Brown, Virtue, Chicago
  • Outstanding Bakery: Yoli Tortilleria, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: Margarita Manzke, République, Los Angeles
  • Outstanding Hospitality: The Quarry, Monson, Maine
  • Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program: OTOTO, Los Angeles
  • Outstanding Bar: Bar Leather Apron, Honolulu
  • Best Chef California: Justin Pichetrungsi, Anajak Thai, Sherman Oaks, California
  • Best Chef Great Lakes: Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama, Chicago
  • Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic: Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, Kalaya, Philadelphia
  • Best Chef: Midwest: Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger, Fairchild, Madison, Wisconisin
  • Best Chef Mountain: Kris Komori, KIN, Boise, Idaho
  • Best Chef New York State: Junghyun Park, Atomix, New York
  • Best Chef Northeast: Sherry Pocknett, Sly Fox Den Too, Charlestown, Rhode Island
  • Best Chef Northwest & Pacific: Vince Nguyen, Berlu, Portland, Oregon
  • Best Chef South: Natalia Vallejo, Cocina al Fondo, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Best Chef Southeast: Terry Koval, The Deer and the Dove, Decatur, Georgia
  • Best Chef Southwest: Andrew Black, Grey Sweater, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Best Chef Texas: Benchawan Jabthong Painter, Street to Kitchen, Houston
Gail Simmons, one of the co-hosts of the James Beard Awards ceremony poses on the red carpet.

“Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons, one of the hosts of the James Beard Awards, is shown on the red carpet in Chicago Monday night. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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