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Rich Melman Gets Chicago's Sole James Beard Award

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Chicago had a very disappointing night at the James Beard Awards, getting shut out of almost every category our chefs and restaurants were nominated in. Hopes were high for Paul Kahan to take home the award for Outstanding Chef for Blackbird, but it went to Jose Andres instead.

And we think Mindy Segal can now officially be called the Susan Lucci of the Beard Awards. She was slighted once again in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category (Blackbird's Patrick Fahy didn't win either). Best New Restaurant would've been a coup for Girl & The Goat, and while Stephanie Izard is definitely having one helluva year, it wasn't a huge surprise that honor went to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's ABC Kitchen. A disappointment, but not a total surprise.

One shining light for Chicago was that Rich Melman, founder and CEO of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, took the award for Outstanding Restaurateur, a well-deserved honor after being in the business for 40 years. Unfortunately he wasn't there to receive his award; according to the Tribune, he's been busy on a thank-you tour to many of his restaurants and didn't realize the Beards were happening. "Awards are nice. I don't know if it defines me in any way," Melman told the Trib. "But hey, it is nice. I'm appreciative. Sure." We think he skipped it because he was probably tired of not winning. This was, in fact, the sixth consecutive year he was nominated for this category.

The biggest shock, however, came in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category. Four of the five chefs were from Chicago or the general area—Bruce Sherman (North Pond), Curtis Duffy (Avenues), Michael Carlson (Schwa) and Paul Virant (Vie)—and we really thought Sherman was finally going to nab the award after being nominated so many times, not to mention he's a pioneer in local and sustainable cuisine. But in the end, the award went to Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich. Even he seemed surprised to win for making mac 'n' cheese and fried chicken, as he said in his acceptance speech.

Regardless of what the Beards committee decided, Chicago is arguably one of America's best food cities and has gotten incredible attention in the last few years. And to quote our friend, Steve Dolinsky, who tweeted at us last night: "We have 6th best resto in world, but no chefs/restos worth a Beard Award???" We couldn't have said it better.

· At Long Last, Rich Melman a Beard Award Winner [Tribune]

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