The James Beard Awards, “known as the Oscars of the food world,” will honor the country’s best chefs, writers and restaurants on Monday night. The ceremony has been held in Chicago in recent years, as is the case once again.
While several local nominees are up for the awards, there are few national nominees this year. Chicago typically has one in Best Bar or Baker or Outstanding Chef or Restaurant in the Country. Maybe that’s not the case because of the 26 people on the Chef and Restaurant Awards committee, no one is from Chicago.
Last year’s only local winner, chef Erick Williams of Virtue restaurant in Hyde Park, has reason to be proud, because his Chef de Cuisine Damarr Brown, the everyday man in the kitchen, is nominated for Best Emerging Chef in the country; Sort of a rising star rating, for their take on southern food.
Another national category is Best New Restaurant, and Obelix in River North is up against nine other restaurants from across the country. They hope their modern take on classic French food will win them over.
Sepia, a 16-year-old establishment in the West Loop, is nominated for the Outstanding Hospitality award, something the restaurant owner has always emphasized.
“From day 1, we were very interested in bringing in the right people. Personality was much more important than experience,” said Emmanuel Nony, owner of Sepia. “Smiling from the heart, welcoming our guests as if it were our own home. Giving them an amazing experience.”
Many of Nony’s employees have been with him since they opened. He says there are no egos on the floor, just a common thread.
“We all work together; it’s a team effort,” she said.
In the Best Chef: Great Lakes category, a regional award, we have a couple of nominees. First up, the husband and wife team of Genie Kwon and Tim Flores from Kasama in the Ukrainian village. They offer casual Filipino food during the day, but a $230pp tasting menu at night, which really elevates what Filipino food can be.
In Logan Square, the other nominee for Best Chef: Great Lakes is Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya Antojería, a restaurant she created from her memories and travels.
“It’s what the flavors of what a Mexican child would eat growing up. Nostalgic Mexican dishes to share,” said Dávila.
Dávila says that getting the nomination shows that he doesn’t need to water down the flavors or his approach to cooking.
“You don’t have to compromise your artistic vision. Cooking food from your heritage is very empowering,” she said.
Here is a list of the local establishments and chefs nominated for the awards:
- Damarr Brown of Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd St., 773-947-8831, Emerging Chef semifinalist
- Obelix, 700 N. Sedgwick St., 312-877-5348, Semifinalist for Best New Restaurant
- Sepia, 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920, Outstanding Hospitality Semifinalist
- Diana Dávila Boldin of My Namesake Antojería, 2800 W. Logan Blvd., 872-315-3947, Best Chef semifinalist, Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio)
- Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of Kasama, 1001 North Winchester Ave., Best Chef semifinalists, Great Lakes