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Last year I said the takeaway from the James Beard Foundation media award nominations was that Chicago food writing wasn't trying hard enough. Well, I guess for once the claim of a rebuilding year actually proved true, as even a chef, Rick Bayless, managed to get as many media nominations as all of Chicago media did last year. As half of The Feed (the other half being Steve Dolinsky) Bayless picked up one, in addition to being nominated for Best Restaurant Service, which will apparently be the case for Topolobampo until the end of time. By comparison, last year, Chicago's only non-cookbook nomination went to This American Life.
So it's a better year for food media in this town, for sure. Dolinsky picked up two nominations—The Feed's and one for his TV segments, which he's been nominated for and won many times; Kevin Pang was nominated for the M.F.K. Distinguished Writing Award for a Lucky Peach piece about prison menus; and former Time Out Chicago critic Julia Kramer, now in New York, was nominated for her work at Bon Appetit. And last, but very much not least, the winner of the M.F.K. Fisher award two years ago, the Reader's own Mike Sula, was nominated for this Reader piece on all-star chefs going to work for Big Food. Hear, hear.
It's harder to know if there are any Chicago connections in the cookbook section; former Grub Street Chicago editor Helen Rosner is one of the collective "Editors of Saveur" nominated for Saveur: New Classics Cookbook, but there may be others I didn't spot. It's worth noting that all those currently-in-Chicago nominees are not only past nominees but past winners—Bayless has won on the media side for one of his cookbooks. So younger food writers, step up your game and find a way to write something besides listicles.
On the restaurant side—oh yeah, they nominate restaurants too!—the James Beard Foundation nominated Paul Kahan-Donnie Madia restaurants like mad, as usual. But since Kahan did finally win Outstanding Chef after many nominations, they have turned their exquisite torture to nominating Madia for Outstanding Restaurateur every year instead, as well as Outstanding Bar Program to the Violet Hour, Outstanding Pastry Chef to Blackbird's Dana Cree, and Best Chef: Great Lakes to Erling Wu-Bower at Nico Osteria. That category, as usual, was four-fifths Chicago, with nominations also to Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Paul Virant of Vie, and Curtis Duffy of Grace.
And two women chefs got nominations for being up-and-comers. Tanya Baker, who took over the Boarding House to less fanfare than she's really deserved so far, got a Rising Star Chef nomination, while chef-owners Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark saw their much-loved Parachute land a spot on the list of Best New Restaurants. It's especially nice to see a small neighborhood place, pretty much built by the owners on a shoestring, see its creativity rewarded over a scene full of mega-openings in the same timespan (hint, hint, Michelin). Finally, Carrie Nahabedian's Brindille was nominated for best design or renovation, 75 seats and under.
The restaurants awards will be held in Chicago on May 4—but the media nominees still have to go to New York to get theirs. See the full list here.