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Rick Bayless Wins James Beard Award For Outstanding Restaurant

THE LOOP — Rick Bayless nabbed the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Monday night at the annual "Oscars of the food world."

It was Grant Achatz, winner of the same award in 2016 for Alinea, who passed the torch to Bayless, reading the name "Topolobampo" as the winner from the list of nominees.

Bayless was awarded the Beard Award as Outstanding Chef in 1995, and Topolobampo's neighbor Frontera Grill nabbed the Outstanding Restaurant prize in 2007. 

"I'm just incredibly honored," said the chef, who was overcome with emotion as he thanked his staff.

"Restaurants are always ensembles.... It's not one person," Bayless said.

"We have always sought to put our heart first ... and to cook with all our heart," he said.

"None of this would be possible at all without Deann," Bayless said, crediting his wife and business partner of more than 30 years.

Topolobampo, 445 N. Clark St., opened in 1989. As with all of the nominees in the Outstanding Restaurant category, it is considered "a national standard bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service."

The evening's other big winner from Chicago was Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde, who took home the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes.

"I didn't plan a speech," said the overwhelmed Grueneberg.

She thanked her mom and aunt, "who taught me how to be a woman entrepreneur" and chef Tony Mantuano, her mentor at Spiaggia.

Monteverde, 1020 W. Madison St., opened in November 2015 and was named one of Food & Wine's Restaurants of the Year in 2016.

In 2011, Grueneberg was runner up on Season 9 of Bravo's "Top Chef: Texas" and was chosen as one of seven culinary masters to compete on the new Food Network show "Iron Chef Gauntlet."

The crème de la crème of the restaurant industry converged on the Lyric Opera House Monday night for the third James Beard Awards held in Chicago. The awards will remain in the city through 2021.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the evening with a pointed acknowledgement of the restaurant industry's diversity.

"Never has it been more important to celebrate that diversity," which is reflected in different flavors, food and cultures, Emanuel said.

Stephen Starr of Philadelphia, in his acceptance speech for Outstanding Restaurateur, built on Emanuel's comment, thanking immigrants "who have done so much to keep these restaurants running."

But there are still some ways in which kitchens are not diverse enough.

Rohini Dey, owner of Vermilion, 10 W. Hubbard St., is the founder of the James Beard Women in Culinary Leadership program, which pairs women in the profession with industry leaders to build in-depth skills.

"The dismal fact remains that less than 7 percent of leading chefs are women," Dey said.

"For those of you who think women should own half the sky, we urge your to be part of our program," she said.

Chicago chefs were among the nominees in some of the evening's most prestigious categories, including Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Baker and Rising Star Chef.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson of "Modern Family" fame served as host of the event, held at the Lyric Opera House at 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr.


Here's the hometown culinary talent nominated Monday:

Outstanding Restaurant: Topolobampo

[Frontera Grill]

The Rick Bayless-helmed restaurant, which opened in 1989, has been nominated in this category before, but has never won. Bayless himself was honored with a Beard Award as Outstanding Chef in 1995 and his other restaurant Frontera Grill was named Outstanding Restaurant in 2007. 

Nominees in this category must have been in operation for at least 10 consecutive years and are considered "a national standard bearer of consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere and service."

Outstanding Baker: Greg Wade, Publican Quality Bread

[Facebook/Publican Quality Meats]

At Publican Quality Bread, Greg Wade oversees a staff of eight, who turn out 4,000 loaves each week for more than 20 restaurants, including Blackbird, Dove's Luncheonette and Nico Osteria.

Wade quickly has earned a reputation for his whole grain long-fermented breads. One loaf of sourdough can take as many as 60 hours to produce, start to finish.

The Outstanding Baker category was introduced in 2015 to distinguish bakers from pastry chefs.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Jenner Tomaska

[Facebook/Jenner Tomaska]

Jenner Tomaska works his magic at Next, and was also a Beard nominee in 2016.

The Rising Star category honors a chef age 30 or younger "who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come."

Outstanding Restaurateur: Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz

Rob Katz, Kevin Boehm and dates at the 2016 James Beard Awards  [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz are partners in the Boka Restaurant Group, which includes Boka, Girl & the Goat and Momotaro, among others. They were nominated in the same category in 2016.

Best Chef: Great Lakes Region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio)

For the second year in a row, Chicago chefs swept the nominations in this category, guaranteeing the city at least one win. Curtis Duffy of Grace took home the Beard Award in 2016.

The 2017 nominees are Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice; Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde; Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute; Lee Wolen of Boka; and Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria.

Best Restaurant Design (76 seats and over): AvroKO design firm for Momotaro


According to a description of Momotaro's design provided by AvroKO, highlights include "bathroom walls enveloped in 991,000 individual blue ink pen strokes done by a collaboration of art students; a drinks menu designed to evoke vintage brokerage boards; and massive two-story pendant lighting inspired by the formal qualities of a Sorabon (a device similar to an abacus)."

Chicago's Land and Sea Dept. took home the award in this category in 2016 for the firm's work on the Cherry Circle Room in the revamped Chicago Athletic Association.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Bayless won a Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant in 2007 for Frontera Grill.