Last night, the food and beverage world descended on the Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 29th annual James Beard Foundation Awards, the highly anticipated gathering that recognizes the nation’s culinary front-runners across more than 20 categories.
“Modern Family” actor and food blogger Jesse Tyler Ferguson hosted the event, bringing to the stage plenty of humorous moments and playful pep talks throughout the three-hour ceremony. “Just remember, everyone – you’re all winners,” he said. “Especially those of you who have won awards in previous years – because literally, you are all winners.”
It was a first-time win for rising star chef of the year Kwame Onwuachi of Kith and Kin in Washington, D.C. “As I stand on this stage, I understand that I have a job to do, and we all do,” he said. “We can just continue to put out great food and give great service, or we can advocate for something to inspire the next generation and include everyone in the conversation of cooking.”
It was an appropriate kickoff to this year’s event theme – “Good Food for Good” – a philosophy synonymous with the foundation’s mission of educating and empowering leaders in the food community. The message was further bolstered by humanitarian of the year recipient The Giving Kitchen, an Atlanta-based nonprofit providing emergency assistance to food service workers through financial support and community resources.
“When it came to giving back, my late husband Ryan Hidinger turned to six words: ‘Help food service workers in crisis,’” said co-founder Jen Hidinger. “We hope to be national one day, but until then, we want restaurants to provide these resources to their teams – and we want to support them in their efforts to do so.”
The podium saw an array of notable speakers throughout the night, including actress Zooey Deschanel, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and NPR game show host and Chicagoan Peter Sagal, who introduced the evening’s regional best chef categories with biting humor. “Usually, the expectation is that if we succeed in our region, we deserve to go live on the coasts,” he said. “Well, sometimes we don’t – sometimes we decide that you don’t deserve us.”
Those regional wins went to Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute (Chicago), Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint (Washington, D.C.), Ann Kim of Young Joni (Minneapolis), Jody Williams and Rita Sodi of Via Carota (New York City), Tony Messina of Uni (Boston), Brady Williams of Canlis (Seattle), Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar (Oxford, Mississippi), Mashama Bailey of The Grey (Savannah, Georgia), Charleen Badman of FnB (Scottsdale, Arizona), and Michael Cimarusti of Providence (Los Angeles).
Other medals were awarded to Frenchette (New York City) for best new restaurant, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner (Raleigh, North Carolina) for outstanding chef, Kelly Fields of Willa Jean (New Orleans) for outstanding pastry chef, and fourth-time nominees Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of Boka Restaurant Group (Chicago) for outstanding restaurateur.
“This win is a dream come true for both of us,” says Boehm. “It represents all of the hard work by our entire team over the last 16 years, and being able to accept it in our hometown makes it especially sweet.”
To see the full list of winners, visit jamesbeard.org/awards.
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