James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony a Night of Surprises and Epic Parties

Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles won the James Beard: Outstanding Chef award.
Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles won the James Beard: Outstanding Chef award. Image Used with Permission

Chefs, restaurateurs, cocktail artists, media members, and other guests in tuxedos and gowns packed the Lyric Opera House in Chicago for the 2016 James Beard Foundation Awards, held in the Windy City for the second year in a row.

Chef, restaurateur, and co-host of ABC’s The Chew, Carla Hall, kicked off the evening’s festivities as clips of “I Love Lucy” were broadcast through the large screen, framed by a blue TV box and antenna at the stage background and highlighting this year’s “TV Dinner” theme.

Today Show weather anchor and Chicago food enthusiast Al Roker shared some enthusiastic thoughts about TV dinners via video, and throughout the event, other videos were shown, including a segment on Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q in Oneota, New York, which was recognized among other iconic restaurants throughout the country for the America’s Classics awards.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered his thoughts on Chicago’s food scene.  “Chicago’s known for its cuisine, and the way we count ballots,” he said. “So you might as well go home. We won.”

Four notable food professionals, including Marcus Samuelsson, Gina Gallo of Gallo E. & J. Gallo Winery, Jim Leahy, master baker and cookbook author, and Temple Grandson, who developed humane treatment protocol for animal husbandry, were recognized as Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America through a series of video segments documenting their work and achievements.

Alon Shaya, a John Besh protégé who won the 2015 James Beard Award Best Chef: South, and is the chef/part-owner—with Besh—of New Orleans restaurants Domenica, Pizza Domenica, and Shaya, took home the win for Best New Restaurant for his namesake Israeli concept, which opened in February 2015 and blends Louisiana culinary traditions with locally-sourced ingredients and the flavors of Israel reflecting Shaya’s heritage.

“Who would have thought: hummus and New Orleans?” said Shaya, who accepted his award on stage with his team. “It really comes down to the amazing people that made this all happen … It’s really easy for me to say, and Ms. Leah would agree, New Orleans is the best food city in the world right now.”

Shaya was referring to Leah Chase, of the legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, who was recognized with a lifetime achievement award during the ceremony. Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” for 75 years, Chase has fed her city, visitors, celebrities, and dignitaries, such as Thurgood Marshall, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and countless others. In a town deeply divided by segregation, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places in New Orleans where mixed race groups could meet to discuss strategy for the local Civil Rights Movement. Though the restaurant temporarily closed after Hurricane Katrina—hit particularly hard being in the 9th ward—it would re-open and become a safe haven for residents, relief workers, and restaurant workers alike.

“I’m 93 years old, and this gives me courage to keep going for another 10 to 12 more years,” Chase said.

The folks at Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, New York, drew a surprised reaction but loud applause when they won for Outstanding Bar Program, beating out the likes of Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, Bar Agricole in San Francisco, and Arnaud’s French 75 in New Orleans.

Land and Sea Dept.’s Cherry Circle Room at the Chicago Athletic Association won for best restaurant design in the 76-plus-seat category.

Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles drew a standing ovation for her win as Outstanding Chef.

“Can I just say hallelujah, thank God!” she exclaimed on stage. “I am so honored every time I’m nominated for this award.”

Other notable award winners included: Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles;  Ken Friedman of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and Tosca Café in New York City for Outstanding Restaurateur, and Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme in New York City for Rising Star Chef, which is given to outstanding chefs aged 30 years or younger.

“I’m lucky I have great partners, my fiancé Alex, April Bloomfield, you’re the best partner anyone can have,” Friedman said. “I love being a restaurateur and remember there’s no end to being a restaurateur.”

Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery + Café, Boston, won for Outstanding Baker presented by Leahy. “I want to thank my parents—every year I’ve been nominated they think I’ve won, so this year I can finally tell them I did,” she said.

Curtis Duffy of Grace finally took him a well-deserved win for Best Chef: Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio), even bringing his daughters up on stage for a mini dance party to say thanks.

Other regional chef winners included: Aaron Silverman, Rose’s Luxury, Washington D.C., won for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic; Paul Berglund, The Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis for Best Chef: Midwest; Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto, for Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs); Zak Pelaccio, Fish & Game, Hudson, New York, for Best Chef: Northeast; Renee Erickson, The Whale Wins, Seattle, for Best Chef: Northwest; Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans, for Best Chef: South; Tandy Wilson, City House, Nashville for Best Chef: Southeast; Justin Yu, Oxheart, Houston, for Best Chef: Southwest; and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Animal, Los Angeles for Best Chef: West.

Alinea secured Chicago’s only third win of the evening with the award’s top honor as Outstanding Restaurant because of its ability to shatter any and all expectations and
“continually defy expectations."

“Thank you—I feel like I should just walk away at this point,” Grant Achatz said jokingly when receiving the award with his team after walking on stage to the HBO hit TV series Game of Thrones’theme music. “All of us here in the city are very proud and to host all the culinary professionals in our industry and most importantly, open our arms and doors to all our friends and family we respect and admire.”

Achatz went on to give thanks for “not only embracing what we’ve done over the last 11 years, but for really trusting myself and Nick to blow up an existing restaurant that was working really well. To have the courage to embrace the spirit of the restaurant itself beyond the food beyond the service beyond the aesthetics but really the core philosophy and spirit of taking that risk and to constantly innovate.”

Achatz was referring to Alinea’s temporary closure on New Year’s Eve and ensuing five-month-long renovation and revamp, about to be unveiled in a few weeks.

He continued: “It was an enormous level of trust and I really respect all of [my team] and everything they contributed to the restaurant’s success, and I thank all of you for your support over the last 11 years. Enjoy Chicago.”

Achatz’s team helped folks do so even more after the event with an after-party at its newest, more casual digs, Roister, in the West Loop.

Here is a complete list of the 2016 James Beard Award winners.

Following the awards ceremony, guests mingled and congratulated each other over CH Distillery cocktails and wine in the opera house’s atrium while noshing on Aaron Franklin’s famous beef brisket from his restaurant Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Diane Yang of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis whipped up some tangy grapefruit curd with vanilla Chantilly cream and thyme meringue, while The Publican’s Cosmo Goss’ beef heart tartare flew off the table.

Afterward, Rick Bayless held an epic party at his newly opened seafood restaurant Leña Brava, and brewery, Cruz Blanca, serving up beer with sushi rolls and whole fish, while Stephanie Izard opened her doors at Girl and the Goat with a circus themed party that also featured fellow chefs Lee Wolen, Edward Lee, Jamie Bissonnette, and Ken Oringer, and even a flaming ring thrower.

Winners of the Foundation’s annual Book, Broadcast, & Journalism Awards were presented on April 26 at a ceremony and dinner at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in New York City, hosted by James Beard Award winner, chef and TV personality Ming Tsai.

By Amelia Levin

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