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The finalists for the James Beard Awards, one of the food industry's biggest recognitions in America, have been announced. Chicago has five nominees, winnowed from eleven semifinalists. That's four fewer than last year's nine finalists. Erick Williams of Virtue was the only Chicagoan to win last year.
Here are Chicago's finalists. The winners will be announced in a ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on June 5.
Damarr Brown, Virtue - Damarr Brown could add another James Beard Award to Virtue in Hyde Park, which is run by Erick Williams, who won Best Chef: Great Lakes last year. Brown is Williams' chef de cuisine at Virtue, but also gained fame as a near-winner of Top Chef last year. He shared his story and a recipe for jambalaya with us.
Best New Restaurant
Obélix - This French-ish restaurant from the family behind the Bucktown favorite Le Bouchon seems to have won over everyone with its inventive dishes such as a foie gras taco, and has been on seemingly every best new restaurant list in Chicago.
Sepia - Sepia has been a perennial contender for James Beard Awards in several categories. The Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant has garnered nods for everything from Outstanding Service to Outstanding Wine to Best Chef: Great Lakes for current chef Andrew Zimmerman, although it hasn't been on the list since 2018. Perhaps this is its year to finally win one, beyond a 2008 victory in the now-defunct category Outstanding Restaurant Graphics.
Best Chef: Great Lakes
Diana Dávila Boldin, Mi Tocaya Antojería - Dávila Boldin has been nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes numerous times, including last year. Her Logan Square Mexican restaurant has been a local and national favorite for several years now, and was featured in PBS's No Passport Required show with Marcus Samuelsson. She has also engaged in charitable work, running a free meal program called Todos Ponen ("Everyone contributes") during the pandemic. You can try her recipes for enchiladas potosinas, guacamole, and ensalada.
Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama - This Filipino restaurant and bakery has received tons of acclaim since opening in West Town, including a nod on The New York Times' 2021 Restaurant List, a Michelin star, and a chance at Best New Restaurant in the James Beard Awards. Genie Kwon's pastries and her husband Tim Flores' dishes have drawn people to their breakfasts and a tasting menu that explores classic Filipino dishes.
An honorable mention goes to recent Chicago transplant, Christian Hunter, who is the chef at the new Lincoln Square tasting menu restaurant Atelier, which replaced Elizabeth. Hunter is a finalist for Best Chef: Northeast for his work at Community Table in Connecticut, which he left to come to Atelier.