The 30th annual James Beard Foundation Awards gala was scheduled to take place Monday night, but instead the foundation streamed a video to announce its 2020 finalists. Eight of them are from Chicago, including all six in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category. The foundation also announced a new date when they’ll announce restaurant and chef award winners. Normally, those awards are handed out during a spring gala, but due to COVID-19, that date’s been pushed back to September 25 from the Lyric Opera Chicago.
The nature of that event — online or in person — has yet to be confirmed. The foundation announced in March that it would postpone the event until summer, as the hospitality industry faces serious challenges in the midst of pandemic-induced dine-in closures.
The awards honor outstanding chefs, restaurants, and hospitality professionals. Usually, a there’s a separate announcement for food journalism and media award nominees, but the pandemic canceled those plans and forced the foundation to make one long announcement on Monday. The “long list” of award semifinalists, which included 19 Chicago representatives, was released in late February.
All of this year’s Best Chefs: Great Lakes award finalists are from Chicago, leaving Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio unrepresented. That group includes first-time nominees John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth, the farm-to-table fine dining restaurant in West Loop, and Erick Williams of Virtue, Eater Chicago’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year. There’s also a comeback story for Gene Kato, who joined Boka Restaurant Group’s West Loop sushi restaurant, Momotaro, in November 2018 after closing his River North restaurant, Sumi Robata Bar the year before. Kato and Boka also plan to open an Italian-Japanese restaurant.
When it comes to beverages, Chicago had two repeat nominees: Logan Square tropical drink paradise Lost Lake for Outstanding Bar Program and influential Mag Mile Italian restaurant Spiaggia for Outstanding Wine Program.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.
(* denotes first-time finalist)
Best Chef: Great Lakes:
Gene Kato, Momotaro
Jason Hammel, Lula Cafe
*John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, Smyth
*Erick Williams, Virtue
Noah Sandoval, Oriole
Lee Wolen, Boka
Outstanding Wine Program:
Outstanding Bar Program: