I'm no foodie, but I do love a good party, so I was really excited to attend the James Beard Foundation Awards, dubbed the "Oscars of the culinary world." As we approached the venue (the Civic Opera House), we knew it was a "happening" just judging by the enormity of the traffic on a Monday night.
I could hardly make it to the entrance due to the Red Carpet madness. And I could just barely see WGN's Dean Richards as he was jammed onto the Carpet along with a zillion other news outlets from around the world.
As I threaded my way in, I noted a surprising lack of security. I wandered through the gala area, snapped some pics of the incredible displays, including my favorite of the evening, a giant ice sculpture/sushi bar featuring a variety of fish frozen inside from Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi. I checked out the theater and took some more pics before finding my way to the media room downstairs. This space was locked and loaded and ready for action with a full bar and food stations as well as large screen TVs that would be transmitting the event live.
And as much as I love the fact that the Awards are here in Chicago, there were a few hits and misses:
1) The awards ceremony lasted too long at over 3 1/2 hours. No need to thank every busboy who ever helped you. Also, maybe we can just feature the BIG awards and list others in the program book? Just sayin'.....
2) Loved the way Chicago dressed up for the event. I must say, I swelled with pride over our hometown peeps who looked mighty fine!
3) Emcee Alton Brown put my teeth on edge when he sang a rendition of the Beatles tune, "The Beat Goes On", renaming it "The Meat Goes On." He said "Chicago is a meat-centric kind of city." More humorless meat jokes followed....we can definitely cut this part for next year!
4) I loved musical guest Shermekia Copeland's song, "I'm a Hungry Woman." Clever and she was terrific although seemed a bit nervous.
5) Rich Melman receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was the highlight for me. I especially loved his "no-frills", interesting acceptance speech. He shared this advice: "You can't make a bad deal with a good person and you can't make a good deal with a bad person." I also loved this: "A lot of people ask me what my favorite restaurant is. It's RJ Grunts, because if it wasn't successful, I wouldn't be standing here and it's where I met my wife Martha." Awwwww......
6) I wish Mayor Emanuel would get a new tagline....again I heard, "Chicago is the most American of American cities." Sigh.....
7) Next year, we definitely need better sound to view the program in the media room. It wasn't until 8:30 pm that they finally hooked up speakers. Some of the writers who were on deadline looked absolutely suicidal over the fact they couldn't hear the comments.
8) I thought Chicago deserved more awards, but am grateful for the wins we did receive: Donnie Madia (a partner in One Off Hospitality Group) who won for outstanding restaurateur; Violet Hour that won for Best Bar Program and Outstanding Restaurant Design honors to designers Tom Nahabedian and James Gorski for the restaurant Brindelle (534 N. Clark St.).
9) I'm not sure the Civic Opera House is the right venue for the Gala following the Awards ceremony. With its warren of small rooms, there was no place for the huge crowds to comfortably sample the night's food offerings from nearly 30 chefs.
10) I thought Mary Blanton Ogushwitz, JBFA press coordinator, did a great job as a first-timer here. She dealt with all of the world press in a friendly professional manner and made sure they had everything they needed (except for sound in the media room which was a first time glitch, I'm sure--I hope).
11) I loved the opening video that showed various Chicago landmarks representing food-related images....wine was poured into the Millennium Park Bean, Wrigley Field was depicted as a serving dish and Marina Towers was transformed into a knife and fork. Clever.
12) Great song choices to begin the awards, "Celebration" and "Let's Get It Started".....
13) Adored the "Chef Whisperer" video (see it here) and loved the "Look Back" video, too, of award winning chefs' moments and what they do with their medals. Both cute and funny.
14) Mariano's was a sponsor and Bob Mariano was a presenter. He did a great job.
15) Best of all, love the money all the "Beardies" spent on restaurants in our city! Can't wait for next year....and the next year!
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Filed under: Entertainment
Tags: Alton Brown, Bob Mariano, Brindelle, Chef Whisperer, Donnie Madia, James Beard Awards, James Beard Foundation Awards, James Beard Gala, James Gorski, Ji Suk Yi, Joey DiBuono, Kathleen Henson, Lynne Bredfeldt, Mariano's, Mary Blanton Ogushwitz, Nina Mariano, One Off Hospitality, Rich Melman, RJ Grunts, Rochelle Trotter, Shermekia Copeland, Stephanie Leese Emrich, Steve Dolinsky, Tarrah Cooper, The Violet Hour, Tom Nahabedian, Tracey DiBuono, Windy City Live