Last weekend, Chicago’s culinary community came together to celebrate its best. Unlike the James Beard or Michelin awards, which involve outside experts making decisions about what food in Chicago deserves recognition, the Jean Banchet Awards are our homegrown awards, with local food experts picking what they believe to be the best of the city.
The big awards were neither new nor particularly surprising, but they definitely reflect some of our city’s best. In a nod to “sometimes nice guys absolutely do win,” Anna and David Posey of Elske shared the Chef of the Year Award, beating out an all-star field including John Manion (El Che), Erick Williams (Virtue), and Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp (Honey Butter Fried Chicken). Restaurant of the Year went to my current favorite tasting menu spot, Smyth, which beat out Brindille, mfk, and Oriole.
In the alcoholic beverages category, some of my favorites won. Kevin Beary of the Bamboo Room, which is one of my current go-to cocktail places in town, won Best Bartender, while Kumiko won Best Bar. Best Sommelier went to Aaron McManus of Oriole.
In what can only be described as a snub to Michelin, the award for Best New Restaurant went to Kyōten, which was the only omakase spot that didn’t manage to get a Michelin star this year. The Banchet committee appears to agree that the omakase trend is pretty great; they just don’t agree on the precise restaurant that deserves the nod.
A lot of restaurants I’ve written about in this column had a pretty solid night. Tzuco won Best Design for its amazing dining room that feels like you’re inside a natural history museum. Publican Quality Meats, now under the leadership of Rob Levitt, won Best Counter Service, beating out some pretty delicious spots like Tortello and Landbirds.
One of the best parts of the Banchet Awards is the Culinary Achievement Award, and this year’s award went to one of the great treasures of the city, the Breakfast Queen Ina Pinkney (who just released an awesome new installment of her column in the Tribune). Keep your eyes out for her address on YouTube, as any speech that Ina gives is worth watching again and again.
The full list of nominees and winners is available here.