The 25th-annual James Beard Foundation Awards brought the best and brightest in the dining world to the Lyric Opera last night, the first time ever the awards have been held outside of New York City. We attended, along with a ton of glammed-up foodies, as well as Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner (both of whom made speeches praising the foundation for choosing Chicago as this year's host city). The (very) long ceremony was packed with highs and lows. Here are the highlights—and lowlights.
Chicago's solid showing
Four total awards for the city (including Rich Melman's lifetime achievement medal), an impressive showing considering we lost "Best Chef: Great Lakes" to the only non-Chicagoan nominated in the category (Cleveland's Jonathon Sawyer, who took a moment in his speech to thank the home crowd for "not booing him.") It was an especially sweet night for One Off Hospitality Group, itself responsible for half those awards: Outstanding Bar Program at the Violet Hour and Outstanding Restaurateur for Donnie Madia.
Rich Melman's speech
The award wasn't a surprise, but that doesn't change the fact that the tribute to the Lettuce Entertain You Don was quite lovely (and well-deserved.)
Every Top Chef contestant and cooking show host you have ever loved, all in the same room, grabbing for the same bottles of San Pellegrino, hailing the same cabs.
Mostly for the best, though there were some logistical difficulties (see below). The chefs from restaurants you've been dying to try standing before you, proffering stand-out bites and putting the meal at every gala event you've ever attended to serious shame.
The excessively long ceremony
Three and a half hours. No breaks. The crowd got awfully chatty and restless toward the end, so much so that people started filing out of the auditorium before the biggest awards were announced in favor of early access to the buffet and bar. Note to future attendees: Attend pre-parties and stuff canapés in your purse or pockets for sustenance through the long night ahead.
The host couldn't land a joke all night, plus he opened the festivities with a meat-themed parody song in honor of Chicago's stockyard legacy that included the lyric "Sometimes I shoot chipmunks in my yard/And confit them in freshly rendered lard."
The awards are a great chance to recognize the food world's many fine accomplishments, but the best part of the night is, in theory, the post-show buffet with dishes from past award-winning chefs. However, the dainty hallways and nooks of the Lyric Opera are not conducive to cocktail party schmoozing with the night's honorees, so attempts to dive in mean elbowing through tightly knit crowds of starving, sober people in formalwear. Listen up, event planners: Next year, just hand guests a glass of Champagne and a slab of meat from Publican upon exiting the hall. Problem solved!