Smyth, Obelix and Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining are among 11 Chicagoland restaurants named as semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards, in an announcement released Wednesday morning.
Once again, Chicago will host the restaurant award program, considered one of the highest honors for the nation’s dining industry, with the ceremony taking place June 5 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
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While we will have to wait until March 29 for the official nominees, the semifinalist list suggests the organization is seriously attempting to broaden the playing field. While plenty of restaurants from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco still made the list, you’ll also see restaurants from Anchorage, Alaska; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Roundup, Montana.
Chicago chefs and restaurants were shut out of the Outstanding Restaurateur and Outstanding Chef categories, but they did well elsewhere. Smyth, the acclaimed West Loop restaurant run by John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, is one of 20 restaurants in the Outstanding Restaurant category.
Damarr Brown, chef de cuisine at Virtue, is among semifinalists for Emerging Chef. This continues an impressive run for the Hyde Park restaurant, as Virtue’s chef and owner, Erick Williams, won a James Beard Award last year for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Brown himself was recently named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs, along with Kasama’s Tim Flores and Genie Kwon.
In the Best New Restaurant category, two Chicago candidates will vie for the accolade: Obelix, the stunning French restaurant from brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey (you can read my review here); and Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining (which I reviewed in October), one of only two Cambodian restaurants in Chicago. (Both were among our November list of the 25 Best New Restaurants in Chicago.)
Other local highlights include Sepia, a semifinalist in the Outstanding Hospitality category, and All Together Now, which is up for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program.
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The biggest surprise is probably the number of local chefs in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category, which Chicago has mostly dominated over the past 20 years. In fact, a Chicago chef has won every single year since 2011, when Alex Young picked up the award for his work at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But out of the 20 semifinalists this year, only five Chicago restaurants made the cut: Diana Dávila Boldin (Mi Tocaya Antojería), Thai Dang (HaiSous), Paul Fehribach (Big Jones), Tim Flores and Genie Kwon (Kasama) and Zubair Mohajir (Wazwan).
I also want to congratulate Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois, for making the cut as a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar. Located outside of Murphysboro in southern Illinois, where the excellent 17th Street Barbecue resides, the brewery prides itself on using ingredients that are foraged or farmed on-site.
We’ll have to see how this all shakes out March 29. While Chicago undoubtedly has a great restaurant scene, I think it’s promising to see other places in the Midwest get some recognition.