On Monday night, the nation’s top chefs, bartenders, and restaurant professionals gathered for the 25th annual James Beard Foundation Awards, hosted at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. And while it was the first time the anticipated awards ceremony has taken place outside of New York City, the Big Apple and its exponents were very much present throughout the evening — in both nominees and winners.
The first New York City nominee to take a medal was Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, who won for a category brand-new to the Beards this year: Outstanding Baker.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh my God, they picked me!’ ” he says. That excitement was fueled by years of waiting for a category of this nature to emerge — an addition that Lahey had requested in a letter to the Foundation more than a decade ago.
“It made me really happy to hear that the Foundation was acknowledging the craft and the work of what we do, because we can’t elevate this genre if it’s always an outlier. Bread-baking is one of the oldest culinary rituals tied to an ingredient that is found in almost everything we eat, and the narrative of bread is changing — from commodity wheat to wheat with a story.”
Mark Ladner of Del Posto won for Best Chef New York City, a nomination he shared with Marco Canora (Hearth), Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi (Carbone), Anita Lo (Annisa), Ignacio Mattos (Estela), and Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto).
“It’s a very humbling experience — I’m relieved that it’s over and excited to be able to share the honor with so many other people,” says Ladner. “I’m just really proud and excited for the team — it takes so many people to get to this point.”
Bâtard then took the prize for Best New Restaurant, a category that had it pitted against Central Provisions (Portland), Parachute (Chicago), Petit Trois (Los Angeles), the Progress (San Francisco), Spoon and Stable (Minneapolis), and fellow New Yorker Cosme.
Bâtard chef Markus Glocker kept his speech short and sweet, ensuring a memorable takeaway for those tuning in. “Hard work, passion, and patience never goes out of style,” he says.
Outstanding Pastry Chef winner Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar congratulated her fellow nominees in her speech, a group that included Ghaya Oliveira of Daniel. She continued to acknowledge New York culinary friends, including Alex Stupak and Wylie Dufresne. “I want to thank the men that raised me in professional kitchens — you taught me how to balance knowledge and skills with authenticity and quirk.” And she thanked Momofuku founder David Chang. “You saw something in me, you pushed me out there, you gave me a stage to find my voice, and you remind me every day to be fearless.”
Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony won the Outstanding Chef award, a category in which he stood as the only NYC representation. “I love Chicago, but I would travel anywhere to hang out with you guys for a night,” Anthony said, gesturing to his peers in the audience. “You all are a constant source of inspiration.”
A fleet from Blue Hill at Stone Barns took over the stage to accept the Outstanding Restaurant award with their mentor and chef Dan Barber, who has previously won for Best Chef New York City and Outstanding Chef.
In addition to marking 25 years of the awards, it was another special night for one Chicago restaurant in particular: Alinea, which was celebrating its 10-year anniversary. “We had staff at the restaurant until 6 a.m. these past two days, including [chef] Grant [Achatz],” says partner Nick Kokonas. “We threw a party for about 400 people today — chefs from all over. We threw a party that, frankly, I never thought we’d throw. We faced so many difficulties…to get to ten years, it feels kind of timeless.”
That revelry carried on post-awards, starting with an onsite gala that showcased bites and drinks from more than 50 restaurants and sponsors, including Toro and Momofuku Ssäm Bar. After-parties were held at restaurants and bars across Chicago, including La Sirena Clandestina, the Aviary, Big Star, and Girl and the Goat, where nominees, winners, and guests mingled around goat-shaped Ketel One ice sculptures in between dishes from former James Beard winner chef Stephanie Izard.