Culture

Backstage at the Beard Awards: Chicago Edition

Portraits from the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards in Chicago

On Monday night, the Chicago Lyric Opera House flooded with chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs, and lots of tuxedos for the James Beard Awards, that annual mashup of The Oscars and prom night that honors restaurants, bars, and the people who make them happen. It was a big night for New York chefs, who took the Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Restaurant, and Outstanding Chef categories. It was also a night of firsts: This was the first year that Chicago hosted the awards, and the inaugural year for the Outstanding Baker category. There were ice sculptures! There were countless flasks! There was a lot of hugging! And we were backstage, convincing winners and minglers to pose for our camera.

Daniel Boulud James Beard
Daniel Boulud, Force of Nature

Boulud tells us that he’s never grown a beard, “But I will for you. As long as you don’t complain.”

Jessica Largey
Jessica Largey (right) of Manresa, Winner: Rising Star Chef

When we asked how Largey was so calm, her best friend Katherine Sacks interjected: “Because we knew all along!”

Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern, Best Chef: Great Lakes (pictured with his wife Amelia)

How did Sawyer prepare his beard for the Beards? “I’ve been eating a lot more protein to make sure it was shiny.”

Mark Ladner of Del Posto, Winner of Best Chef New York City
Candace Jordan, Chicago Tribune
Candace Jordan, Chicago Tribune
Maison Premiere
Will Elliott, Shae Minnillo, and Maxwell Britton of Maison Premiere

Elliott, Minnillo, and Britton gave us their best “Malort faces”—the infamous face a person makes after taking a shot of the Chicago-made wormwood liquor.

Mary Ogushwitz
Mary Ogushwitz, Logistical Powerhouse, Magrino PR
Chef Edward Lee
Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia, Nominee: Best Chef Southeast

“This really helps my reputation.”

Natalie Dupree, Cookbook Author

“I have this wooden sculpture of a country woman, and we called her ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride.’ So she wears my Beard awards as compensation. They’ve changed the color, you know—they used to be gold.”

Ming Tsai JBFA
Ming Tsai, chef and television personality

“It says, ‘f*ck you Chicago!’ Just kidding. It says ‘I love Chicago.'”

The Violet Hour
The Violet Hour , Outstanding Bar Program, Outstanding Outfits
Nick Kokonas James Beard
Nick Kokonas, Owner, Alinea Restaurant / Next / The Aviary
Shelley Lindgren
Shelley Lindgren, Wine Director, A16. Winner: Outstanding Beverage Program

“We started with Champagne, so I’ve been on bubbles and coffee all day. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Adam Sachs Blaine Wetzel
Adam Sachs, Editor-in-Chief, and Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Best Chef: Northwest
Curtis Stone JBFA
Curtis Stone, chef

“Oh, she’ll love this!”

Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinsky
Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinsky, State Bird Provisions and The Progress, Winners of Best Chef: West

Spotted at the after-party: Nicole generously handing out extra face glitter to all interested parties.

Richard Melman
Richard Melman, restaurateur, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

“I’m going wherever they want me to go, and I’ll eat ramen and drink Champagne, and I’ll be in bed by midnight.”

Maricel Presilla
Maricel Presilla, Chef, Author, Restaurateur

“Whenever people ask me for advice, I tell them: “Dont expect anything.”

Matt Taylor-Gross and Aaron Franklin
Matt Taylor-Gross and Franklin Barbecue's Aaron Franklin, Best Chef: Southwest
Dale Degroff, Cocktail Legend
The Violet Hour 's Toby Maloney, Dale Degroff, and their flasks.

“I’m drinking gin and juice,” said Maloney, whose team won Outstanding Bar Program. “I’ve got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”

Alon Shaya James Beard
Alon Shaya, Best Chef South, and wife Emily Shaya

“Kebabka is a babka stuffed with roasted kebabs. It will be the official Bar Mitvah food of 2015, until the end of time. Kebabka is a lifestyle.”

Donnie Madia James Beard
Outstanding Restaurateur Donnie Madia with his wife, Estelle Madia

Madia hosted an afterparty at Big Star, where he jumped atop the bar to address the crowds, and the tequila and tortilla chips flowed like water.

Dan Barber James Beard
Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Outstanding Restaurant winner

“I wore this suit to my bar mitzvah.”

Jonathan Waxman
Jonathan Waxman, chef

“My first restaurant job was in Hawaii in the 70s at The Rusty Harpoon—shit, I’ve been doing this for 40 years.”

Kat Kinsman James Beard
Kat Kinsman, Editor-in-Chief, Tasting Table
Chef Mike Anthony James Beard
Mike Anthony, Outstanding Chef

When asked about his celebration plan, Anthony gave us one word: “Tacos.”

Marian Bull James Beard
Marian Bull, editor