A developing case of the croup kept me away from the Civic Opera House last night, where the 2016 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards gala [insert obligatory “Oscars of the food world” reference here] was held for the second year here in Chicago. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t suffer through three-plus hours of Carla Hall’s cringe-worthy emceeing on the live stream, and the wooden, self-serving medal presentations from corporate sponsors.
The big news was Alinea won Outstanding Restaurant, one year after its tenth anniversary (therefore its first year of eligibility), and despite being closed for most of the year during a complete retooling.
Curtis Duffy of Grace won Best Chef: Great Lakes, beating out four other esteemed Chicago chefs: Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, Lee Wolen of Boka, Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria, and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia.
Land and Sea Dept. won for Best Restaurant Design or Renovation in North America (76 seats and over) for the gorgeous Cherry Circle Room.
Boka Restaurant Group’s Meg Galus got stiffed for Outstanding Pastry Chef, as did her bosses Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz for Outstanding Restaurateur. Taken with Wolen’s loss, it was, you could say, a bad night for these guys, but something tells me we’ll see all those names as nominees again.
North Pond and Topolobampo, veritable Susan Luccis of the Beards, both lost for Outsanding Service. Sepia lost for Outstanding Wine Program. But the one that really stung was Jenner Tomaska of Next losing in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category.