The James Beard Foundation on Wednesday morning released its list of finalists for 2023, and Chicago restaurants and chefs picked up five nominations. That’s a marked drop from the nine finalists named last year when the foundation brought back its awards gala for the first time since 2020 after it canceled the ceremony amid pandemic tumult and allegations of bullying, sexism, and racism. Widely considered among the highest honors in the food world, the James Beard Foundation Awards will take center stage at a gala announcing the winners on June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
A tight group of notable players in Chicago hospitality, the finalists still manage to evoke the depth and scope of the city’s restaurant scene. Damarr Brown, chef de cuisine at Virtue in Hyde Park, remains in the running for emerging chef (previously called rising star chef). If he’s chosen, he’d be the second Virtue winner in as many years: Last year, chef and owner Erick Williams became the first Black chef to win the award for best chef, Great Lakes.
In another departure from past years, Chicago chefs are in the minority among finalists for this year’s award for best chef, Great Lakes. Local contenders Diana Dávila of modern Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería and spouses Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of Filipino fine-dining spot Kasama (a 2022 finalist for best new restaurant) are joined in the category by three competitors from Detroit.
Obélix, the modern French bistro from restaurant stalwarts and brothers Nicolas and Oliver Poilevey, has moved into the final round for best new restaurant. In late 2022, it was named Eater Chicago’s best new restaurant of the year. Longtime West Loop favorite Sepia is also still in contention for outstanding hospitality.
The 2023 awards season is the foundation’s second opportunity to highlight changes it has made to address systemic bias in its process, brought to light in an extensive 2021 audit. This could be the impetus behind an apparent emphasis on Midwestern chefs outside Chicago. In addition to the prominent Detroit presence among the finalists for best chef, Great Lakes, four Wisconsin-based chefs also made the short list of finalists, including a rare best new restaurant nomination for Milwaukee’s Lupi & Iris from chef Adam Siegel, a previous winner of best chef, Midwest, who began his career at shuttered Chicago icon Spiaggia.
Head over to Eater for the full list of finalists nationwide. This year’s Chicago finalists are below.
(* denotes a repeated nominee from past years)
Damarr Brown, Virtue
Best New Restaurant
Best Chef: Great Lakes
*Diana Dávila Boldin, Mi Tocaya Antojería
Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards. Eater is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to livestream the awards in 2023.