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Inside This Year’s Peppier-than-Usual James Beard Awards

Sarah Grueneberg and Rick Bayless won big—as did the happy hometown audience.

Chicago chef Rick Bayless accepts the Outstanding Restaurant award for Topolobampo.   Photo: Courtesy of James Beard Foundation

Another James Beard Foundation Awards are over and done with, and this year’s ceremony, which took place at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, felt peppier than the last couple editions. Part of this is because of host Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who added to the fun with costume changes and running gags.

But the social media theme for the evening gave everything a nice frame, even if social media is kind of funny to celebrate as some kind of new phenomenon.

Related: See Inside the James Beard Awards Gala (360-Degree Video)

Overall, it was disappointing that there weren’t more Chicago nominees and winners, though Topolobampo won the award for Outstanding Restaurant.

It was kind of shocking, though, that the prize went to Rick Bayless’s high-end spot, perhaps because it’s always in the spotlight here. But I haven’t been to any of the restaurants it was up against, so who knows? And of course, it was nice to see Sarah Grueneberg be recognized for her work at Monteverde with the Best Chef: Great Lakes award.

Otherwise, the special awards were a highlight, with excellent videos for the America’s Classics restaurants and a lovely speech by Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nora Pouillon. And there was a personal highlight, too: presenter Ted Allen’s shout-out to Chicago magazine.

Years and years ago, Ted did some reviewing for us and when asked if he knew what I looked like (during my anonymous-critic days), he’d always say, “Yes, and she’s fat and ugly.” Now there’s a friend.

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