Foundation Announces Nominees For 2020 James Beard Awards

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Monday would have been the 30th Anniversary James Beard Awards in Chicago, where winners in the Restaurant and Chef Awards category were to be announced at a black-tie gala. But the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the awards - and just about everything else.

The James Beard Foundation decided Monday to announce the nominees for the 2020 James Beard Awards presented by Capital One.

"Over the past few months COVID-19 has upended the restaurant community in every facet. During this time the Foundation has turned its attention to supporting the relief and rebuild efforts, postponing Awards activities to instead focus on the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, which to date has disbursed more than $4 million to independent, locally owned restaurants around the country," the James Beard Foundation said in a statement. "After consultation with chefs and restaurateurs across the country, the Foundation decided to announce the 2020 nominees and honorees, and set the dates for this year’s remaining Awards events, which recognize work done in 2019."

The announcement was livestreamed on Twitter and was co-hosted by Visit Philadelphia President and CEO Jeff Guaracino and the Beard Foundation's CEO, Clare Reichenbach.

Additionally, the Foundation announced Monday that it will forego a physical ceremony for the 2020 Media Awards. Instead, it will issue a press release on Wednesday, May 27 announcing the winners. Restaurant & Chef Award winners are now slated to be announced on Friday, September 25 from Chicago, broadcast live via the James Beard Foundation’s Twitter feed. 

Seven Chicago chefs were nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes (a region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio). And two other nominations were announced for Chicago.

The nominees are Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, nominated for the second straight year; Gene Kato of Momotaro, a first-time nominee; Noah Sandoval of Oriole, nominated for the second straight year; John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth, first-time nominees; Erick Williams of Virtue, a first-time nominee; and Lee Wolen of Boka, nominated for the fifth consecutive year.

Other nominees included Spiaggia, nominated for the second time in the Outstanding Wine Program category; and Lost Lake, nominated for the second time for Outstanding Bar Program.
According to the Tribune, Chicago was shut out of the remaining national awards, including Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Chef, and Outstanding Restaurateur, three categories in which the city has enjoyed a good deal of success.

As some consolation, a couple of former Spiaggia chefs received nominations. Missy Robbins was nominated for Outstanding Chef for her work at Lilia in New York City, and Paul Bartolotta was nominated in the Outstanding Restaurateur category for his Bartolotta Restaurants group in Milwaukee.

The winners will be announced Sept. 25 in Chicago, though the manner of that announcement has yet to be determined. That day would be the first day of the Chicago Gourmet weekend, if the event still takes place.

Mitchell Davis, chief strategy officer for the JBF, explained on the organization’s website why the nominations were released Monday.

“It was clear that those whose work in 2019 led them to be selected as a semifinalist — and perhaps ultimately as a nominee or a winner — deserved the recognition they earned,” the statement said in part. “Those we consulted felt the awards could also offer a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time.”