Last night, the food world's best and brightest descended upon Chicago's Lyric Opera House for the James Beard Awards. For first time in its 25 years, the awards were not held in New York City. Though the forecast said it might rain, the air stayed dry and cool during and after the ceremony, prompting winners and losers alike to hit the town to party. Pre- and post-event parties were held at Rockit Bar & Grill, The Door, The Girl and the Goat, the Aviary, SoHo House, Frontera, Ramen-San, Big Star, and Three Dots and a Dash. Many attendees opted to celebrate instead with a meal at restaurants across Chicago.
Perhaps because the awards were held in Chicago, many of New York's biggest names didn't make it out (restaurateur of the moment Danny Meyer was held up at his latest Shake Shack opening in Austin). About halfway through the ceremony, the news that prolific food writer Josh Ozersky had suddenly passed away filtered through the crowd. Once confirmed, his death put a noted dim on the festivities, with many friends and food writers bowing out of the ceremony and after parties early. (New York food writers convened to discuss what they were going to do to memorialize him and his work; Andrew Zimmern, ever a food world champion and cheerleader, shared some touching thoughts last night and on Twitter about the award winners and Ozersky).
Josh was a friend, I adored him. He was brilliant, funny, kind to me, curious and a great mensch. I will miss him http://t.co/0SCG8RtUN0— Andrew Zimmern (@andrewzimmern) May 5, 2015
Still, the winners deserved their medals and champagne. Intent upon showing New Yorkers that Chicago knows how to have fun, after parties featured plentiful food options, copious drinks, and — of course — ice luges. Here's what we remember:
- LA chef Ari Taymor (in Chucks) and crew.
- LA's Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre.
- Massachusetts chef Barry Maiden (of Hungry Mother), who would go on to win Best Chef: Northeast.
- NYC chef/badass April Bloomfield.
- Louisville chef Edward Lee.
- Eater Patron Saint Rick Bayless.
- Chicago's Melman family, whose patriarch Richard (center) is founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.
- Chef/TV personality Andrew Zimmern.
- Food Network Magazine founder Maile Carpenter and NYC chef Wylie Dufresne.
- Chef/legend/tall person Thomas Keller.
- LA chef Suzanne Goin.
- Chicago Mayor/tanning enthusiast Rahm Emanuel, with James Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro.
- NYC chef Anito Lo.
- Chicago chef Curtis Duffy.
- The team from NYC bar Maison Premiere.
- Austin's Aaron Franklin, who would go on to win Best Chef: Southwest.
- Michael (left) and Carrie Nahabedian of Chicago's Napa and Brindille.
- NYC chef Enrique Olvera (center), with members of his Cosme crew, including Santiago Perez & Santiago Gomez.
- The Lopez family, whose LA restaurant Guelaguetza Oaxacan was honored as one of "America's Classics" during the ceremony.
- Seattle chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi.
- Elizabeth DePalmer, Nicole Krasinski (in green) and Stuart Brioza (in blue) of SF's State Bird Provisions, with Jason Alexander of the Progress. Krasinski and Brioza later won the JBFA for Best Chef: West.
- Chef/television personality Ming Tsai.
- Los Angeles chef/dapper man Curtis Stone.
- Dan Barber, whose restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns later took home the medal for Outstanding Restaurant.
- Center, chef Gavin Kaysen (of Spoon and Stable).
Traffic control was a major issue throughout the event, starting at the red carpet. People flooded towards the entrance of the Lyric Opera House from every direction, but only several people were allowed inside at once after stepping and repeating across the red carpet.
· The media room was notably larger this year than in years past, but it was again mostly standing room only. Ladies in heels and sequins were seen begging publicists and event organizers for folding chairs. But chefs started to filter down into the media area: both after they won awards and after the ceremony started to feel a little long. After winning for Outstanding Baker, New York's Jim Lahey said it was all about luck: "It was the bread! I had bread with Ed Levine at the airport on the way here, for good luck."
· The television screens in the media room blacked out every five minutes for about two seconds at a time, eliciting groans. Similarly, technical difficulties held up the welcome announcement, Alton Brown's blues set, and several awards' speeches.
To sum up the post-awards gala, which was held inside the Lyric Opera House's vast, two-story atrium, we have one word: "clusterfuck." Organizers were unprepared for the crowd to flood the two-story space, and attempted to corral traffic upstairs while the food downstairs got cold. Everyone complained that the venue was far too small for the crowds, complaints of "this is terrible" and "insane" were overheard.
· At some point, someone yelled, "It's every man for himself!"
· When guests arrived at bar stations, there weren't enough glasses to go around. Guests were spotted grabbing used glasses, dumping them out, and asking for drinks inside already-used, dirty, lipstick-stained glasses. Eater's EIC Amanda Kludt: "I found a hallway with some clean glasses and an unmanned tub of champagne and felt like the hero of the evening."
· LA chef Nancy Silverton, who looked ravishing, and served food at the post-awards gala, but wasn't seen behind her table at all that night. Instead, she braved the crowds, stopping to hug fellow chefs like Floyd Cardoz along the way.
· José Andrés, Thomas Keller, and Nick Kokonas were seen outside the Lyric Opera House immediately after the awards ended (although not standing together), clearly in an attempt to avoid the shitshow that was happening inside.
· Chicago-based chef Stephanie Izard snagged one of the Lexus' that were parked outside to head back to Girl and the Goat for her afterparty.
Post-event, folks headed to either an afterparty or to grab a much-deserved dinner (Thomas Keller and the Per Se crew, ever the professionals, were earlier seen hanging out at Chicago's Fat Rice). José Andrés ended up at Ramen-San with Rich Melman and his family. But most of the big names for the night congregated around Randolph Street, which happens to be where dozens of Chicago's best restaurants and bars live.
· New York's David Chang and Wylie Dufresne as well as Sean Brock (Husk) were spotted at Avec, a Paul Kahan restaurant.
· NYC's Ken Friedman organized a hangout — or in his words "a loser party" — for all the places and people who lost. It started at midnight at the SoHo House, were many attendees were staying for the weekend.
· Speaking of self-proclaimed losers, after losing to New York City's Bâtard for Best New Restaurant, the LA-based Petit Trois crew hit Au Cheval for burgers and avoided the afterparty scene.
· Winner of Best Chef Southwest, Aaron Franklin, also opted out of the afterparty scene and hit up Chicago favorite Au Cheval with partner Stacy Franklin.
· Andrew Zimmern, the Bâtard crew, the Violet Hour team, Hot Doug's Doug Sohm, and so many others stopped by the Girl and the Goat's after party to drink from a goat-shaped ice luge and eat bites from Stephanie Izard and Jamie Bissonnette. Drew Nieporent, co-owner of Bâtard, literally danced into the room to celebrate the team's win.
· Hit items at the Girl and the Goat afterparty (which served the same lamb tartare dish that Jamie Bissonette was busy scooping up at the gala) included foie gras hot dogs, an uni quesadilla-type thing, and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" on the speakers.
And now, some unnecessary superlatives:
· Chef Art Smith and his husband Jesus Salgueiro were by far the best dressed of the night, turning heads at the Girl & the Goat afterparty. Proof:
· But chef Jonathon Sawyer, who won Best Chef Great Lakes, wins for best footwear choice.
· The most beautiful couple award goes to Mr. Curtis Stone and his wife, actress Lindsay Price.
· Best branding, indeed:
· Most Rick Bayless thing of the night: