Restaurants in running for Beards, media not so much

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Paul Kahan at the Publican, where he hosted his own honors.
  • Michael Gebert
  • Paul Kahan at the Publican, where he hosted his own honors

"New York usually hosts the stars of the culinary industry, but here in Chicago we produce them," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with perhaps a bit too much Second City aggressive defensiveness. As was demonstrated by his tribute to Charlie Trotter at yesterday's James Beard Foundation Awards announcement of the 2014 nominees, held at the Publican, Chicago doesn't need to bluster about having an important place in the culinary world.

And Chicago chefs and restaurants did well in the nominations, the hosts of the event in particular—One Off Hospitality picked up four nominations across its properties. Blackbird chef David Posey was nominated for Rising Star Chef (as was Jimmy Bannos Jr. of the Purple Pig), and Blackbird's Dana Cree was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef; One Off's Donnie Madia was nominated for Outstanding Restaurateur, and the Violet Hour got a nod for Outstanding Bar Program. Grace, another star of the moment, was nominated for restaurant design (by Lawton Stanley Architects), and chef Curtis Duffy was one of four Chicagoans in the Best Chef, Great Lakes category, along with Dave Beran of Next, Paul Virant of Vie, and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia. Perennial nominee Spiaggia was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant, a bit oddly since it's currently closed for renovations and will reopen with a new chef. Topolobampo was again nominated for Outstanding Service.

So it was a good, if hardly surprising (many of these nominations are repeats), morning for Chicago chefs. The irony is that the announcement came to Chicago this year so that Chicago's food media could be present—yet Chicago's food media got bupkes in the way of nominations.

Precisely two of the broadcast and journalism nominations went to Chicagoans: French Pastry School chef Jacquy Pfeiffer (with Martha Rose Shulman) got a Baking and Dessert Cookbook nomination for The Art of French Pastry, and the nationally distributed This American Life, produced in Chicago but only occasionally focused here, was nominated in the Radio and Webcast category. (No, it's not normally about food either, but the rules in that category require you to enter no more than 30 minutes' worth of material, so that was likely a single food-oriented segment from one show.)

Some of that was just luck of the draw—frequent past nominees such as Monica Eng and the Reader's Mike Sula simply didn't have star pieces to enter this year. The one piece everyone expected to be nominated—Kevin Pang's moving (and multimedia-tricked-out) profile of Curtis Duffy in the Tribune—is also the sort of thing that has to compete against the top food writers nationwide for one of three slots, tough odds for any piece.

After some thinning of the ranks early last year, it's hard not to think that Chicago's food journalists simply aren't aiming that high that often. Though the awards obviously favor long, literary-magazine-style pieces, that doesn't have to mean the New York magazine industry will win everything—for instance, the southern magazine Garden & Gun, which features many of the south's great food writers on a regular basis, also shows up among the nominees and winners regularly. Chicago food journalism produces a lot of lists and a lot of coverage of openings. In 2013, we produced the stars of the culinary scene—but much more rarely the journalism that explained why.

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