Unlike last year, when Paul Kahan was a co-winner in the outstanding chef category (considered a national award), this year's Chicago representation was more subdued.
(This reporter is a voting member of the James Beard Foundation.)
Only three names called out at Lincoln Center had Chicago connections.
Jimmy Bannos Jr. of River North's The Purple Pig was a co-winner in the rising star chef category, awarded to chefs younger than 30. Bannos shared the award with Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, a Washington state restaurant near the Canadian border that's accessible only by ferry. (Blackbird's David Posey was nominated in this category as well.)
"I'm still in shock about getting nominated last year for the first time," Bannos said Monday night. "When I was 10 years old, my dad said the 'James Beard Award is the be-all-end-all.' To actually do it now is really unbelievable. It ranks as the greatest accomplishment I've ever had."
In the regional awards, Dave Beran of Next — the shape-shifting Fulton Market restaurant transforming this month from a steakhouse menu to Chinese — was the winner of best chef, Great Lakes. He beat out fellow Chicagoans Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia), Paul Virant (Vie), Curtis Duffy (Grace) and Clevelander Jonathon Sawyer (The Greenhouse Tavern).
"It's an incredible thing," Beran said Monday night. "It's made me reflect a lot on what we've done the last few years. It's a testament to how the restaurant has evolved. [The Sicily menu] was the first time I was forced to do food I wasn't comfortable with. I knew how to use tweezers and put three bites of food on a plate. I didn't know how to serve rustic, family-style food. We're a lot more mature now."
Chicagoans Maria Contreras, Christopher Lawton and Micah Stanley of Lawton Stanley Architects won the outstanding restaurant design award (75 seats and under category) for West Loop's Grace.
Chicago was shut out of other categories. The city had nominees in best restaurant (Spiaggia), outstanding service (Topolobampo), outstanding restaurateur (Donnie Madia, One Off Hospitality), outstanding bar program (The Violet Hour) and outstanding pastry chef (Dana Cree, Blackbird) categories.
Kahan was a previously announced inductee in this year's class of Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America.
Monday's gala was the second of two awards ceremonies from the Beard Foundation; its book, broadcast and journalism awards were announced Friday. Several Chicagoans were feted, including The French Pastry School's Jacquy Pfeiffer (with co-author Martha Rose Shulman) who won the baking and dessert book award for “The Art of French Pastry.”
Also a winner was former Chicagoan Ben Calhoun of “This American Life,” produced by WBEZ-FM 91.5 but now based in New York, in the radio show/audio webcast category for his segment on an Oklahoma meat plant that sold hog rectum to restaurants as calamari.
The full list of winners can be found here. (PDF link)