For the second-straight year, Chicago played host to the James Beard Foundation Awards, and winners celebrated into the early hours on Tuesday. Luminaries from the restaurant and bar industry descended on the Lyric Opera of Chicago and later shuffled to the West Loop and Wicker Park for afterparties. This year, Rick Bayless provided another treat by opening up his new spot Leña Brava/Cruz Blanca to the crowd, a sequel to his gathering last year at Topolobampo/Frontera Grill. Mexican-style sushi rolls, mezcal shots and Bayless' new beers were heartily consumed.
A very-pregnant Stephanie Izard hosted a circus-themed party The Girl & the Goat, complete with a fire juggler who greeted visitors on Randolph Street. Organizers had another year under their belt to throw a proper party while blasting 90s hip hop and they once more brought in two vodka ice luges and added a bottled cocktail. Kevin Boehm from the Boka Group said earlier that he didn't expect to win for restauranteur of the year, but their party did more than nurse any feelings over not taking home the prize. Local chefs cruised the dance floor, including Hot Chocolate's Mindy Segal. No, she didn't bring any cookies.
The folks from the Alinea Group threw an impromptu party over at Roister, celebrating their win of the outstanding restaurant award. Despite the flagship going through renovations, chef Grant Achatz celebrated at their new sister restaurant, trumpeting the trust needed to have the guts to close a successful restaurant and reload with the hope of trying something better. Achatz left his new restaurant after the sun rose, while Marcus Samuelsson, Thomas Keller and Curtis Stone were among the revelers.
Earlier in the night, chef Curtis Duffy of Grace ensured he shared the fun with his daughters, bringing them up onstage and into the press room when Duffy won the award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
A highlight of the gala came from Aaron Franklin, who carved up his famous beef brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Beard attendees waited in line for more than 20 minutes for a taste of barbecue while in the atrium over at the Lyric Opera. That's a notably shorter than the lines customers endure over in Texas. And even earlier in the evening Paul Kahan played server to those getting a full dinner in the VIP area during the awards.
Last year's winner for Best Chef: Great Lakes, Jonathon Sawyer, went for shock-and-awe with his gala dish. The wild game crepinette was rolled with Canadian goose, aged pheasant and squirrel. Yes. The squirrel was shot in Ohio last winter and thawed for the event: "We're taking animals people either think are gross or abrasive and turning them into a delicious piece of charcuterie," Sawyer said.
The award show's theme was television, with theme songs playing for each winner. Sawyer's dish was inspired by the rough-around-the-edges Daryl Dixon on AMC's zombie-loving show "The Walking Dead." For Michael Gilligan and John Suley of Royal Caribbean International, that meant a working conveyer belt serving milk chocolate bonbon with passion fruit ganache and foie gras macaroon a la "I Love Lucy."
The folks from One Off Hospitality Group, again, threw a party in Wicker Park over at Big Star. Once more guests packed the venue, as Paul Kahan unveiled his collaboration beer with Goose Island Brewing Co. A trio of "Top Chef" contestants mingled —Issac Toups, Karen Akunowicz, and Kwame Onwuachi— while Kahan held court in one of the booths until they threw guests out around 2 a.m.