It's been well-documented that when the James Beard Foundation holds its awards on Monday, it will be the first time Chicago plays host to the Beards in the awards' 25-year history. With that in mind, here's some answers from a veteran via a question and answer session with Eater Editor-in-Chief Amanda Kludt. She just celebrated her first year as EIC after joining Eater in 2008.
Allow her to serve as a guide with an insider perspective, offering after-party tips and what to expect for Chicago's first Beards foray.
Eater Chicago: Amanda, how many Beard awards have you attended and what was your favorite part?
Amanda Kludt: I've been going for the last nine years. When I first started going the best part was dressing up and meeting all the people I was obsessed with and had read so much about. It all seemed very glamorous. At this point, I'm jaded and cynical and just like seeing the people I only see at these events. And there's still something fun about seeing everyone in the industry party hopping together and getting messy.
EC: Given your experiences, was New York angry about losing the awards to a flyover state?
AK: Some people I've spoken to are annoyed they have to travel to attend, and I'm sure a lot of other people are relieved they don't have to go or worry about it any more. New York restaurants that win will still celebrate in some way.
EC: Well we know how to party in Chicago. So how can I take advantage of afterparties and celebrity sightings?
AK: Nailing the afterparty circuit is all about keeping an ear to the ground and being well informed. In New York, many nominated restaurants prep to have parties and standby to get the green light. Once the winners are announced they pull out the champagne, inform diners who are still there, even call in the DJ. If they don't win, they don't bother. There are always some restaurants — Boulud Sud/Bar Boulud because they're right there, the NoMad/EMP crew because they like throwing parties — who will do something win or lose. But most of the small talk at the awards involves the after party game plans: which are you going to and in which order? How do you stick to the people you love and avoid the people you don't like, etc. In the end though, it's just a fun night where everyone looks great and drinks too much and wakes up with a hangover the next day. Since this is the first Chicago year, I know a lot of restaurant groups are planning parties whether they're nominated or not so it's just about finding out the who, the where, the when.
EC: What should I look out in terms of the "Beard Effect?" Will I see any restaurant specials?
AK: I doubt the awards will result in deals at restaurants. Instead I think you're just going to find that your most buzzy and famous places will be packed with out of towners and a surfeit of New York food and media types.
EC: That sounds lovely. So what's the most underrated thing about the Beards? What kind of misconceptions are out there?
AK: I think people assume they're more political than they actually are. It's a bunch of your peers choosing (remember there are a lot of voters), so of course personal biases and predications come into play. But that's just the reality of awards chosen by a mass group instead of one entity. The small panel of volunteer "judges" have a lot of influence but the scores of writers, chefs, and restaurateur voters play a major part. For better or worse.
EC: Thanks for your time. Closing it out: Is there anything you don't like about the awards? If you could change anything what would you change?
AK: The awards themselves are longer than they need to be.
Follow Amanda Kludt on Twitter here @kludt.