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Chicago Chefs Dominate James Beard Finalist List For Best In Region

By Janet Rausa Fuller | March 15, 2016 2:21pm
 Abe Conlon (r.) of Fat Rice, pictured with co-owner Adrienne Lo, is a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
Abe Conlon (r.) of Fat Rice, pictured with co-owner Adrienne Lo, is a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
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Galdones Photography

CHICAGO — A Chicago chef is guaranteed to win a James Beard Award this year.

That’s because all five finalists in the category of Best Chef: Great Lakes are from Chicago: Abe Conlon of Fat Rice in Logan Square, Curtis Duffy of Grace in the West Loop; Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, around the corner from Grace; Lee Wolen of Boka in Lincoln Park, and Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria in the Gold Coast.

The finalists for the prestigious awards, the restaurant industry’s equivalent of the Oscars, were announced Tuesday.

Boka has a few other reasons to cheer. Its pastry chef, Meg Galus, is a finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and owners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz are in the running for the Outstanding Restaurateur honor. Their stable of restaurants also includes Swift & Sons in the new Google building and the West Loop trio Girl and the Goat, sister restaurant Little Goat Diner and soon-to-open Duck Duck Goat.

Alinea, the groundbreaking Lincoln Park restaurant (currently closed for a top-to-bottom rehaul) from chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, is nominated in the Outstanding Restaurant category, while Jenner Tomaska, Achatz's chef de cuisine at Next in the West Loop, is up for Rising Star Chef.

Two Chicago restaurants made the cut for Outstanding Service, North Pond in Lincoln Park and Topolobampo in River North, while Sepia is a contender in the Outstanding Wine Program category.

Designers for two very different venues inside the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel at 12 S. Michigan Ave. are finalists in the restaurant design category (for more than 75 seats): Cindy’s, the rooftop bar and restaurant with sweeping views by Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, and the retro clubby Cherry Circle Room from the Land and Sea Dept.

The Beard Awards, named for the late food writer, also honor food media. A finalist in the documentary field, “For Grace,” by former Chicago Tribune reporter Kevin Pang and filmmaker Mark Helenowski, follows chef Curtis Duffy’s emotional journey to open his West Loop restaurant.

The restaurant winners will be announced in a May 2 ceremony at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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