Chicago in National Spotlight as Host of James Beard Awards Gala Monday

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2015 AWARDS LOGO SHELFThis certainly is Chicago’s time to shine in the national spotlight.

First the NFL held their draft Thursday in the Windy City, the first time it’s been conducted outside of New York, the, um, Not So Windy City. On Monday, the James Beard Foundation will have its annual awards gala at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, the first time that ceremony has been held outside of New York.

Let’s hope the top chef pick isn’t a misogynistic, accused-rapist shoplifter.

The Bearders also held the announcement of the semifinalists for the awards in Chicago, but it wasn’t the first time that’s been outside of its Manhattan home. The first time was in 2014 when the announcement was made from East End Market in Orlando.

But so far that’s the closest Orlando has gotten to the awards. Although we consistently have area chefs on the semifinalists list, none has made it to the final ballot.

But take heart. As I’ve been saying for some time — a long time, actually — it can be a long process to get to the awards podium. Judges, who may vote only for chefs whose food they’ve actually eaten, see names of regional nominees on the semifinalist lists and often choose those restaurants to visit when they travel. It can take several years of having a name on the long ballot to make it to the short one, and even longer to win the award.

As this interesting series of charts explaining the James Beard Awards from Eater shows, Tom Colicchio was nominated seven times, as chef for two separate restaurants, before winning the award. Granted, it was for Outstanding Chef and not a regional Best Chef, but still.

Then there is the other extreme, such as last year, when New Orleans’ Ryan Prewitt won for Best Chef South Region, which also includes Florida, and his Peche Seafood Grill also was named Best New (!) Restaurant nationally. By the way, I’ve dined at Peche and it’s nice, but I wouldn’t have cast my ballot for either award over one of several of our area chefs. Not out of local loyalty but because I would put the quality of the food and dining experience ahead of Peche’s food.

Maybe next year.

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