The James Beard Awards gala, the so-called “Oscars of the culinary world,” was originally planned for tonight at Lyric Opera of Chicago. But because of COVID-19, the James Beard Foundation will today announce finalists in a Twitter livestream at 3 p.m. The announcement will pare down the “long list” of semifinalists released in late February, which included candidates in categories like Best Chef Great Lakes, Rising Star Chef of the Year, and Best New Restaurant.
At last year’s gala, Boka Restaurant Group founders Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz picked up the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. Boehm and frequent collaborator chef Stephanie Izard appeared on last week’s episode of Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. Izard, of course, won the Chicago edition of the show in 2008.
In last week’s episode, contestants were tasked with creating a restaurant concept and pitch for the series’s popular and recurring “restaurant wars” challenge. The pitch component is a new feature in the long-running challenge, and one that’s especially well-suited to Boehm, who has opened 30 restaurants.
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Back on @bravotopchef ! Thankfully just on the judges side ;) do not think I’m up for being on the cooking side anymore (I’m getting old;)! . Even more fun I got to be on tv with my business partner @kevinboehmboka ! He was made for tv.... Mr. charming.... and so well spoken. I just laugh a lot ;) . Tune in tomorrow on @bravotv !! @bravotopchef
Boehm didn’t think contestant Eric Adjepong’s (Pinch & Plate; Washington, D.C.) concept was sufficiently clear, and he didn’t like the chef’s overcooked duck. However, he enjoyed Gregory Gourdet’s (Departure; Portland, Oregon) Haitian oxtail and “point of view,” and appreciated the conceptual levity of San Diego celebrity chef Brian Malarkey. Meanwhile, Izard critiqued an under-seasoned pork and rice bowl from Lee Anne Wong (Koko Head Cafe, Maui), but raved about San Francisco chef Melissa King’s agnolotti, saying it was the best dish she tried. “She’s got Michelin-star chops,” Boehm added. Adjepong would be eliminated.
Izard’s Girl & the Goat is part of Boka’s restaurant empire, with a second location planned to open this year in LA. The group’s flagship restaurant Boka reopened Friday for takeout for the first time since Illinois’s stay-at-home order went into effect, and Izard began offering meals and pantry items for purchase out of West Loop’s Little Goat.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards.
And in other news...
- Dive bars were facing challenges in Chicago even before the pandemic, and on Friday, a Facebook post by the owners of another venerable tavern — Gallery Cabaret — scared fans into thinking they’d be the next to fall. The owners of the Bucktown bar, a major supporter of Chicago’s independent music scene, posted a photo on Facebook declaring that its landlord wants them out of the space. The photo shows workers painting over a mural outside the bar, which opened in 1990 at 2020 N. Oakley Avenue. The bar’s owners haven’t returned a message for comment, but have since edited the Facebook post to state they aren’t closing and will reopen when stay at home lifts. Stay tuned for updates.
- Seven community and faith-based organizations on Chicago’s South and West sides have joined the Greater Chicago Food Depository to feed people in parts of the city most severely impacted by COVID-19, the Tribune reported. Over the next five weeks, volunteers will distribute 500 to 1,000 food boxes from pop-up locations — these include shelf-stable products as well as produce, frozen chicken, and pork. Access to fresh food was already a problem in the neighborhoods in question, according to the depository — prior to the pandemic, rates of food insecurity were between 30 and 50 percent. Now, with unemployment numbers skyrocketing, those percentages have only increased. JJ Fish and Chicken in Englewood is also giving away free meals to neighborhood residents and first responders from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (or however long supplies last) on Monday, Alderman (17th Ward) David Moore wrote on Facebook.
- The Chicago area’s first farmers market of the season opened Saturday in suburban Evanston with a two-block line of socially distanced customers, according to the Tribune. Nearly 2,300 people showed up to shop and all were required to wear a face covering. Patrons reportedly abided by the rules and were mostly just happy to be out in the sunshine. In addition to the staggered line, organizers have implemented other changes: customers can’t touch the food, they’re encouraged to keep it moving rather than linger, and there’s no on-site cooking or eating allowed. Palatine’s market also opened Saturday. Green City Market in Chicago is taking online orders on Tuesday for Saturday delivery.
- Speaking of farms, chef Rick Bayless announced $215,000 in donations to 21 Midwestern farms. The farms — located in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were awarded a maximum $12,000, according to a news release. The Frontera Farmer Foundation began the no-interest loan program in 2003, but have switched over to grants. The pandemic has placed an inordinate amount of pressure on smaller farms, forcing them to change the ways they conduct businesses.
- And finally, Don Shula, the legendary football coach of the Miami Dolphins from 1970 to 1995, died on Monday. Shula was 90 years old. He’s the namesake behind Shula’s Steak House inside the Sheraton Grand Chicago Downtown. The chain, which has eight locations, turned 30 last year.