Last year, despite being the host city, Chicago nominees took home just a single win at the 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards. The result had some national critics wondering if the city was suffering through some tragic downward spiral. The reports of the city’s demise were greatly exaggerated as Chicago won big in taking home four awards on Monday’s 2019 edition. The biggest may be from Boka Restaurant Group’s Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz who won Outstanding Restaurateur on their fourth try.
Boka is the Chicago restaurant empire that includes Girl & the Goat, Boka, Momotaro, Bellemore, and others. Boka has been nominated in the category four times.
“Kevin — it’s been a crazy ride, brother — and to think this all started on a blind date cup of coffee 17 years ago,” Katz said after accepting his medal.
Both Katz and Boehm said they were feeling surreal. Boehm told the Beards crowd that his team planned to “drink aggressively” to celebrate. Boehm went out of his way to thanks his chef and team members. They also called out partner Ian Goldberg. He started at the company as a bartender: “The sky’s the limit,” Boehm said.
The other big win for Chicago was Parachute’s Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark’s win for Best Chef: Great Lakes, a category once again comprised entirely Chicago nominations. During his speech, Clark made special mention of the hardworking parents in the room: “I know how hard this industry is, and I know you have a pile of laundry waiting at home for you to do, and you gotta get your kids to school tomorrow, and you all inspire me to keep going every day.”
Pacific Standard Time took home the award for Outstanding Restaurant Design, 76 Seats and Over, beating out fellow Chicago restaurant Lonesome Rose and New York’s Boqueria. Pacific Standard Time was designed by New York firm Parts and Labor.
After three nominations, Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread took home the Outstanding Baker win. Wade said the secret may have been a custom-made suit he purchased just for the awards. He said he was so nervous that he couldn’t tie his bow tie before the show. He had to call the owner of the suit store, who came over for help. Wade said he’ll keep his medal where it will be likely covered with flour: “The way it’s supposed to be.”
Chicago earned 17 finalist nominations in eight categories this year, compared to 2018 when Chicago’s Abe Conlon (Fat Rice) won the city’s only Beard for Best Chef: Great Lakes. For 2018, Chicago chefs and bartenders earned eight finalist nods in six categories. Once more, Chicago swept the six nominations for Best Chef: Great Lakes (no chefs from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio were included).
Eater National’s list of all the winners is available here, and stay tuned for more scenes from the awards on Tuesday.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.