Chicago restaurants will have at least one winner tonight (Chicago chefs comprise all the finalists in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category) when the James Beard Foundation Awards take place at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. America’s restaurant industry has descended upon the city for the third straight year to celebrate the country’s best culinary talent. Locals shouldn’t bat an eye when traffic begins to build on Wacker Drive before 6 p.m., between Randolph and Madison.
The preparation for the event goes beyond red carpet fashion. The Beard Foundation has used Calihan Catering for all three galas since the event moved from New York to Chicago. Nicole Fitzpatrick, Calihan’s director of special projects, said the company starts planning internally back in October. Its biggest challenge may be the VIP dinner service up in the private seating area at the Lyric, serving a four-course dinner to 180 or so guests. Calihan also makes sure all chefs participating in the gala have all the proper equipment. Alinea Group chef Grant Achatz, for the first year, is cooking for the event. Click here for the full chefs list, including what they will serve. Achatz will prepare a dish named “coconut, curry, crab, banana.”
Follow Eater Chicago’s Twitter feed for breaking news, as well as Eater National’s live coverage of the event, starting around 6 p.m. There will be some live tweeting and live blogging. Until then, here are a few facts Fitzpatrick and Calihan provided about the planning that goes into tonight’s event.
- Though current temps are chilly, guests still need cold drinks. The gala uses 4,750 pounds of ice.
- Chefs are directed to make their food portable, as navigating the narrow halls of the Lyric Opera can be a pain with about 2,000 guests scampering around after the gala concludes.
- Those guests need to be properly outfitted with utensils to enjoy their food. That’s why there are 28,200 forks and 38,700 plates on hand.
- Napkins are a valuable currency while in the middle of the swarm. Expect about 67,500 cocktail napkins total at the various stations.
- Since preparations begin in October, that means there are about six months of planning. Calihan estimates its team spends 1,000 hours of catering labor.