The 2024 Winners of Chicago's Local Food Awards, the Jean Banchets
January 28, 2024
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Chicago has a world-class hospitality industry, as the nominees for the city's 2024 Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence prove: amongst them are restaurants lauded in national media around which travelers center whole trips. But the homegrown Banchets celebrate the industry in a local, tight-knit mode more in keeping with the industry here, as evident in the celebratory ceremony awarding the winners this year. These were the first Awards after a year away in which the Banchets reorganized under the aegis of Chicago Chefs Cook, a nonprofit that brings together the local hospitality industry to raise money for humanitarian causes, such as in Ukraine, Tigray, and Puerto Rico.
Longtime Chicago Tribune critic Phil Vettel was honored with a Culinary Excellence of the Year Award, and in his speech described his former job as like that of a forager bee, who goes out and finds food and the nreturns to the hive to tell the other bees where the "good shit" is.
The Banchets recognized where that goodness is in 2024, in a party and ceremony at Venue SIX10 whose proceeds went to benefit Chef Erick Williams' Virtue Leadership Development Program, which trains young people of color through his popular restaurants to become successful entrepreneurs and leaders.
Perhaps one of those beneficiaries will one day be accepting their own Banchet as another hardworking member of Chicago's vibrant, supportive hospitality industry. But for now, here are the winners of the 2024 Jean Banchet Awards.
Restaurant of the Year
Galit - Galit is a Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park that has a Michelin star, and its chef, Zachary Engel, has a James Beard Award from his time at the acclaimed New Orleans restaurant Shaya.
Chef of the Year
Paul Virant of Vie, Vistro Prime, and Gaijin - Chef of the Year caps an impressive and longstanding career for Virant, a respected mainstay of the Chicago area's dining scene, who first impressed with his seasonally focused Vie in Western Springs before opening Gaijin, which is inspired by Japanese okonomiyaki or savory pancake restaurants, in the West Loop.
Pastry Chef of the Year
Tatum Sinclair of S.K.Y., Valhalla, and Apolonia - Stephen Gillanders' trio of restaurants was nominated in three categories, but pastry chef Sinclair was the only one to win, for inventive desserts such as a mindblowing pavlova that looks like a piece of black marble.
Best Restaurant Design
The Omakase Room at Sushi-San - Lettuce Entertain You's sushi restaurant has an intimate but dramatic upstairs room where you are served an omakase menu, in which chefs present a curated meal of sushi, bite-by-bite.
Heritage Restaurant of the Year
Rubi's on 18th - You used to only be able to find the tacos served at this Pilsen restaurant at a stall at the Maxwell Street Market, but they have been beloved for decades and were recently featured in Netflix's Taco Chronicles.
Bar of the Year
Best Intentions - A laid-back Logan Square with the air of a dive but much better drinks, Best Intentions has fond fans - as was evident from the energetic cheers it received upon winning the Banchet.
Best Counter Service
Omarcito's Latin Cafe - The proud product of "just a blue collar" native Chicagoan, as Omar Cadena described himself, Omarcito's serves Latin American street food in Logan Square from a shipping container set next to a courtyard.
Sommelier of the Year
Christian Shaum of Bazaar Meat - Shaum has curated an extensive wine list for the celebrity chef José Andrés' downtown steakhouse, opened in partnership with Gibsons.
Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year
Pompette - The product of three industry veterans, Pompette occupies a corner spot in Bucktown and a happy place in many neighbors' lives, as it operates as an all-day cafe serving everything from brunch to pastries to drinks to dinner.
Bronzeville Winery - Opened by two friends and community leaders on the South Side, Bronzeville Winery anchors an increasingly thriving neighborhood. The kitchen is run by Lamar Moore, who shared a recipe with us.
Best New Restaurant
Indienne - Sujan Sarkar has received loads of attention for his inventive Indian tasting menu spot in River North, including a Michelin star.
Rising Chef of the Year
Trevor Fleming, Emily Kraszyk, and John Lupton of Warlord - Warlord was one of last year's biggest restaurants, a status reflected in its three Banchet nominations. The trio of industry veterans who manage its live fire cooking and menu won rising chef of the year, even if they didn't notch best new restaurant.