Today, we announce the eighth annual Eater Awards, celebrating the diverse group of chefs and restaurants that truly made an impact in the culinary world of 2017.
The Eater Awards are designed to honor the restaurant openings that attracted the most buzz among food lovers; the chefs who engineered menus that sparked imaginations and provided moments of comfort; and the bars that kept all other industries humming along. (And it’s not the only accolade Eater uses to define the year in dining — earlier this fall, Eater christened the Grey in Savannah, Georgia, the Restaurant of the Year.)
But now more than ever, it’s important to recognize how chefs, restaurant owners, and food personalities are instrumental in shaping their communities and culture at large. In 2017, chefs and cookbook authors threw themselves into political debate. They advocated loudly for the safety and well-being of their staff, and argued about how best to foster change in a system that often marginalizes groups. They worked harder to acknowledge and celebrate unheralded cuisines. And of course, they cooked up some pretty great food, too.
Here now, the Eater Awards class of 2017:
Ever since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September, José Andrés — a chef best known for his sometimes-whimsical takes on fine dining — became the most vocal champion for the island’s residents and one of the fiercest critics of the government’s sluggish relief response. He would know better than anyone: Shortly after the disaster struck, Andrés and his team from World Central Kitchen began working tirelessly to feed residents. They’ve served a mind-boggling 3 million meals as of last count.
Chef of the Year
Ashley Christensen, Ashley Christensen Restaurants, Raleigh, North Carolina
Ashley Christensen and her Raleigh, North Carolina-based group operate five area restaurants, but the chef’s culinary prowess isn’t the only reason why she’s Eater’s Chef of the Year. In a politically charged climate, Christensen has been vocal about putting her community values into practice: Whether it’s publicly taking a stand against North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” or speaking out against sexual harassment and misogyny, Christensen leads by example.
Best New Restaurant
Eater’s 2017 Best New Restaurants list, which dropped in July, named 12 spots that will ultimately define the year in dining — but at the top of the heap is Seattle’s JuneBaby, an intensely personal rehashing of chef Edouardo Jordan’s own culinary geography, from Florida to Georgia to the Pacific Northwest. As Eater critic Bill Addison argued back in July: “With JuneBaby, his second restaurant, Jordan distinguishes himself as one of the most accomplished and farseeing chefs cooking Southern food in America.”
One to Watch
Diana Dávila, Mi Tocaya, Chicago
In August, Eater’s Bill Addison declared Diana Dávila’s restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería “the new star” of Chicago’s Mexican food scene. “This is a kitchen that strikes me as being in a constant state of higher evolution,” Addison wrote of Dávila’s cooking, which is equally inspired by her Mexican heritage and Midwest upbringing and reflects a “fierce individuality.” The end game? Dávila wants to change how diners perceive Mexican food. With dishes like her braised beef tongue with peanut butter salsa, we’re certainly paying attention.
Stone-Cold Stunner of the Year
Eight Tables, San Francisco
Owner George Chen, Design firm Avroko
This San Francisco restaurant is unlike any other in the country — and not just because it’s the first in America to focus on China's private chateau cuisine. Avroko’s interior design blurs the lines between restaurant and home, creating an immersive experience within a second-story Chinatown setting. It’s imaginative and playful, but also serene and undeniably luxe.
Cookbook of the Year
Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved, by Julia Turshen
Julia Turshen is an award-winning cookbook author who’s worked with chefs like Mario Batali and personalities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Dana Cowin. But this year, she shifted her focus to gather the collective thoughts of many chefs, cultural critics, and activists to write Feed the Resistance, a collaborative effort meant to inspire change and activate the food world to cook for a cause.
Empire Builder of the Year
Martha Hoover, Patachou Inc., Indianapolis
Martha Hoover’s restaurant group, Patachou Inc., operates six concepts in Indianapolis — including Crispy Bird, which will debut later this week — with a few more to come in early 2018. But more notable than what’s in her portfolio is how she’s compiled it: by fostering a sustainable company culture that also feeds into the community. All proceeds from one restaurant (Public Greens) go toward feeding local food-insecure children; it serves more than 1000 meals to those kids every week.
Watershed Moment of the Year
Brett Anderson’s reporting for the Times-Picayune
Brett Anderson’s blockbuster October report in the Times-Picayune revealed the rampant culture of sexual harassment in the restaurant group owned by one of America’s most high-profile chefs. That exposé — at once shocking and unfortunately familiar — was the result of an eight-month-long investigation, and it opened the floodgates to an essential, necessary conversation that’s been at the cultural forefront ever since.
#Brand of the Year
KFC and advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy
While many fast-food brands are struggling to attract millennial diners, KFC and its ad agency Wieden+Kennedy have managed to keep it fresh with a campaign that channels the past while pointing toward the future. All the ads featuring the Colonel are funny and pleasantly weird. All the tie-ins and stunts are genuinely clever and/or aesthetically pleasing. KFC and W+K have turned a fast-food campaign into a memorable string of pop-art pieces that will define 2017.
TV Chef of the Year
Nancy Silverton, Chef’s Table
In a year when TV saturation arguably hit its peak, the best single episode of food television was Nancy Silverton’s installment of Chef’s Table. More than just a fascinating profile of a talented culinary mind, this episode of the lauded Netflix series cemented Silverton’s place as one of America’s greatest and most important chefs. It also helped democratize the glossy-food-documentary format, focusing on a chef who cooks accessible, affordable food like no one else.
Media Personality of the Year
Chrissy Teigen, @chrissyteigen
Model and personality Chrissy Teigen unexpectedly shifted the “domestic goddess” paradigm in 2016 with the release of her first cookbook, Cravings, and in 2017, her Twitter account was a fresh, funny, and sometimes political chronicle of her charmed life and “anything goes” approach to food. Teigen is the rare celebrity who comes off as completely real: Whether she’s Tweeting about delivery mistakes or soliciting banana deliveries from fans, she’s a breath of fresh air.
Food World Obsession of the Year: Vespertine, Los Angeles
First there was talk of it being a spaceship. Then there were the gorgeously indecipherable food photos: Why is the spinach red? How is a black orb actually fish? Vespertine, LA’s high-concept fine dining restaurant by chef Jordan Kahn, had Eater asking questions since its first announcement, and, once the restaurant finally opened, finding fascinating answers. Vespertine was too fun not to cover obsessively: It’s an ambitious, balls-to-the-wall tasting menu with a wacky backstory and a chef not afraid of wearing his artistic goals on his sleeve.
Spectacle of the Year: The Grill, New York City
In 2017, high-end dining conjured $600 meals of young coconut and caviar in the Yucatan jungle and glass-walled, tunic-clad, kelp-fueled journeys to outer space, but nothing was more sensational than a meal of steak and fire at the Grill. A “theme restaurant for the wealthy,” “darker and more polished” than its predecessor, “sharp and New Yorky,” the Major Food Group transformation of the Four Seasons is a symbolic resurrection of 20th-century power in a 21st-century simulacrum, conjuring a midcentury America that never existed and yet seems, despite itself, desperately in need of saving.
Viral Moment of the Year: Brad’s Wife
She got fired from Cracker Barrel; that much we know. The reasons surrounding the termination of “Brad’s Wife” (known only by her first name, Nanette) from the all-American chain remain a complete mystery. But an army of Twitter and Facebook users came to this stranger’s defense in what turned out to be one of the weirdest and most endearing memes of 2017.
YouTube Personality of the Year: Andrew Rea, Binging with Babish
Andrew Rea earned his YouTube celebrity status the hard way — by painstakingly recreating famous dishes from movies and TV shows, and documenting the entire process in a series of delightful videos. With episodes focusing on the Friends Thanksgiving trifle and SNL’s Taco Town monster, Rea — aka Babish — took his project to bold new heights in 2017.
Editors in all 24 Eater cities also made their selections honoring the chefs, restaurants, and bars that changed the game in 2017. Learn more about each city’s awards line-up — from the Saddest Shutter of the Year in Chicago and Philadelphia to Comeback of the Year in Dallas — below.
Atlanta | Austin | Boston | Charleston | Chicago | Dallas | Denver | Detroit | Houston | Las Vegas | London | Los Angeles | Miami | Minneapolis/St. Paul | Montreal | Nashville | New Orleans | New York City | Philadelphia | Portland, Oregon | San Diego | San Francisco | Seattle | Washington, DC
Editor: Erin DeJesus
Writers: Bill Addison, Monica Burton, Hillary Dixler Canavan, Chris Fuhrmeister, Daniela Galarza, Brenna Houck, Amanda Kludt, Meghan McCarron, Greg Morabito
Art director: Brittany Holloway-Brown
Special thanks: Carolyn Alburger, Emma Alpern, Sonia Chopra, Whitney Filloon, Missy Fredrick, Mary Hough, Amelia McGuinness