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James Beard Awards to move ceremony to Chicago

Chicago chefs among 2014 James Beard Award winners
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Updated: June 23, 2014 3:23PM

Chicago’s emergence as a culinary capital of the world hit full stride Tuesday: The 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony will be held at Chicago’s Civic Opera House.

The May 4 awards ceremony and black-tie gala will mark the first time that the awards show known as the Oscars of the food world will be held outside New York City since its 1990 inception.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his notorious persistence and powers of persuasion to personally lobby for the prestigious event.

He joked about what a pest he had made of himself with Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, during a Millennium Park news conference celebrating Chicago’s victory with champagne on ice.

“I’m not sure we won it on merit or you were just tired of getting the phone calls and coming out to visit you. There’s no doubt about the merit. But I think at this point, you’re changing your cell number,” Emanuel told Ungaro.

Turning serious, the mayor talked about his new and larger goal of attracting 55 million tourists a year and the role that Chicago’s extraordinary array of restaurants plays in that effort.

“I did call Susan on a much-too-frequent basis to lobby for this because I thought it was a fitting recognition for your work in the kitchens, your work in winning these awards nationally,” the mayor told an audience full of award-winning chefs.

“This is a recognition of what all of us have known locally and everybody will know worldwide: Chicago is a culinary capital. Congratulations to all of you,” the mayor said.

Ungaro said Chicago has long been a “top culinary destination — a city that could satisfy any food lover’s cravings.”

The city now boasts over 40 Beard-winning restaurants and chefs.

They include four Outstanding Chefs Rick Bayless, Grant Achatz, Paul Kahan and the “late, great” Charlie Trotter; four Rising Stars, led by this year’s winner Jimmy Bannos, and eight Best Regional Chef award winners, including this year’s winner Dave Beran.

Ungaro further noted that Chicago is home to over 100 great chefs who have contributed their time and talents to fundraising dinners at the Beard House and events all over the country.

“In a city with this many James Beard chefs and award winners, everybody is guaranteed to eat great. I know I have,” she said.

Ungaro said the foundation “always looks forward to visiting great food cities like Chicago.” While every American city boasts of having “unique talents and flavors,” what unites the restaurant world is its “love of food and the camaraderie of food communities like this one in this great city,” she said.

“The foundation is truly thrilled to have such a supportive environment — a great mayor, a great team in Choose Chicago and the Illinois Restaurant Association — to welcome us. We look forward to an exciting celebration of the best-of-the-best in the American food world here next May 4th in Chicago,” she said.

Don Welsh, CEO of Choose Chicago, joked that the James Beard Awards would prompt Chicago’s hard-charging mayor to set the bar even higher for the tourism agency.

“When the mayor set some goals for us a few years ago, first it was 50 million visitors. Now, it’s 55 [million] and after today, he just whispered in my ear it’s 60 million,” Welsh said.

Calling food a “core element” of the city’s tourism pitch, Welsh said, ??Whether we have a convention, whether we have a leisure tourist coming in from Indiana or whether we have someone coming in from China, food is at the core of what we do as a city. We continue to build this reputation as truly one of the great culinary capitals of the world. And as a result of this talent standing here, you make our job that much easier.”

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, called the decision to bring the James Beard Foundation Awards to Chicago a milestone for the city and Emanuel the “top chef who put this plate together.”

“Events like Chicago Gourmet and now, the James Beard Foundation Awards allows us to truly celebrate this city as a gastronomic hub and culinary capital of the world. It’s a very proud moment for all of us,” said Toia, former co-owner of Leona’s Restaurants.

Priscila Satkoff, chef/owner of Salpicon, has never been nominated for a Beard award but looks forward to the celbration.

“Oh, my god, I love it,” she said. “Everything happens in New York, and a lot of those chefs from New York get the awards. Chicago is a great culinary city and I think it’s time for us to get the opportunity to show off. ... It’s time for us to shine.”

The Chicago restaurant scene has emerged as one of the most innovative and creative dining spots in the country. At this year’s Beard Awards — along with Beran of Next and Bannos of The Purple Pig— Kahan was named to the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage, and Grace, 652 W. Randolph, was honored for best restaurant design.

Tony Mantuano, chef-partner of Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia, Terzo Piano and Bar Toma called the news a “win-win scenario.”

“It’s unbelievable for Chicago,” Mantuano said. “It’s a great decision.”

This isn’t the first stop in Chicago for the James Beard Foundation.

In 2009, the foundation took its award nominee breakfast on the road for the first time and held it at Bayless’ Frontera Grill. The 2014 JBF Award nominee breakfast was held March 18 at Kahan’s Publican restaurant in Chicago.

On the weekend of Oct. 17-18, the James Beard Foundation will return to Chicago for its “Taste America” tour.

Already, O’Hare Airport concessionaire HMSHost and the fast-expanding Mariano’s grocery chain have agreed to serve as corporate sponsors of the 25th Annual James Beard Awards in Chicago.

The ceremony will be open to the public and feature awards for the best chef, restaurant and restaurant design, along with special achievement awards including Humanitarian of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, and America’s Classics.

A gala reception will follow the ceremony featuring top chefs and beverage professionals from across the country.

Giuseppe Tentori, chef and owner o GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago, said the event brings “all the people we admire” from the world of food and wine.

“May 4 cannot come fast enough,” Tentori said.

Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio, Adrienne Samuels Gibbs


Twitter: @fspielman

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