By Bob Benenson, Family Farmed
Chicago’s culinary community celebrated its top honors at the annual Jean Banchet Awards on Jan. 17. The prizes handed out, at a lively two-hour ceremony, underscored trends that continue to elevate our hometown’s status as one of the world’s most important restaurant cities.
The one most relevant to us at Good Food on Every Table is the ever-increasing prominence of a Good Food ethos. So many leading chefs today are seeking out locally and sustainable produced ingredients that the term “farm to table” has quickly changed from a niche to a trend to redundant, as it becomes standard operating procedure for many restaurants.
This development can be seen in the Culinary Achievement Award given to chef Carrie Nahabedian.
Nahabedian is, of course, known for the excellence of her preparations at two downtown Chicago restaurants: NAHA (an abridged version of her name), which holds a coveted star from the Michelin restaurant guide, and the newer Brindille. She learned her craft in the late 1980s under the late Jean Banchet — for whom the awards are named — at his Le Francais, a French restaurant in the suburbs that helped put the old meat-and-potatoes city of Chicago on the nation’s and world’s culinary map.
But she also was among the early chefs to seek out local farmers to obtain the freshest ingredients for her cooking. This led to her longstanding relationship with Green City Market — Chicago’s biggest and highest-profile farmers market — which she serves as a member of the board of directors.
The Chef of the Year award went to another of Chicago’s exemplary Good Food citizens: Chris Pandel, who has a big impact on the local scene with restaurants such as The Bristol, Balena, Formento’s, Nonna’s, Swift & Sons, and Cold Storage, all part of his B. Hospitality Group. The lead paragraph of his official biography cites his use of “predominantly local Midwestern ingredients,” and he also describes himself as a supporter and advocate of Green City Market.
The awards ceremony was also a great event for advocates of Girl Power. Most of the winners, either for individual or collective achievements, are women.
Besides Nahabedian, they include Adrienne Lo, who co-owns Fat Rice — the Restaurant of the Year — with chef Abraham Conlon; Beverly Kim, who shared the Rising Chef of the Year award with husband Johnny Clark for their work at Parachute; Sandra Holl of Floriole, the Pastry Chef of the Year; Liz Mendez of Vera, voted Best Sommelier; Jacyara De Oliveira of Sportsman’s Club, selected Best Mixologist; and Kelly Helgesen of Lula Café, the Rising Pastry Chef of the Year.
Two of the big winners also represent the kind of innovative Asian-influenced cooking that is on the rise in Chicago. Fat Rice features the cuisine of Macao, a longtime colony of Portugal, near Hong Kong, that was transferred to China in 1999. Parachute — a nominee for national New Restaurant of the Year at last year’s James Beard Foundation awards — has a fusion menu that include the flavors of Korea, Kim’s ethnic heritage.
The list of all award winners:
Restaurant of the Year: Fat Rice
Chef of the Year: Chris Pandel (The Bristol/Balena/B. Hospitality Group)
Best New Restaurant: The Blanchard
Rising Chef of the Year: Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute)
Pastry Chef of the Year: Sandra Holl (Floriole)
Best Chef-de-Cuisine: Tony Quartaro (Formento’s)
Best Neighborhood Restaurant: mfk
Rising Pastry Chef of the Year: Kelly Helgesen (Lula Café)
Best Sommelier: Elizabeth Mendez (Vera)
Best Mixologist: Jacyara De Oliveira (Sportsman’s Club)
Best Restaurant Service: Billy Sunday
Best Restaurant Design: Cherry Circle Room
Best Ethnic Restaurant: Birrieria Zaragoza
Culinary Achievement Award: Carrie Nahabedian (Naha/Brindille)
Click here for a complete list of nominees.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Photographs by Bob Benenson/FamilyFarmed.