Aunt Florette was a friend of my wife’s family. She worked for Columbia Records in the 1960’s and lived in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. She was a capable single woman who was a gourmet cook. Having planned a dinner party with an elaborate menu inspired by recipes by James Beard, she was stumped by one of his instructions. So she looked up his number in the phone book, called him and asked him to explain. James Beard cheerfully discussed his recipe and inquired about the dishes for the party. Aunt Florette invited him to come along. He couldn’t, but he thanked her for the kind invitation.
I think of this story whenever the James Beard Awards are announced. His name has become the symbol for the finest culinary arts in America. These have been called the Academy Awards of the food world. We can be proud that the awards ceremony moved to Chicago in 2015 and is held at the Lyric Opera at the beginning of May.
Two Chicago chefs walked away with major awards. Rick and Deann Bayless, whose Frontera Grill just celebrated its 30th anniversary, was celebrated for their more upscale Topolobampo, a calm oasis of culinary inspiration that adjoins Frontera Grill. Frontera was cited as Most Outstanding Restaurant by The James Beard Foundation in 2007. This year it was Topolobampo that took away the restaurant equivalent of Best Picture. Rick Bayless joined us on the air during the remodeling of Topolobampo as part of my 25th Anniversary Live Broadcast:
“This is Sarah. She’s going to be a star.” The words of Spiaggia legend Tony Mantuano, who introduced me to chef Sarah Grueneberg at Chicago Gourmet in 2009. Sarah was running the kitchen at Spiaggia and she was still in her 20’s. This year Sarah won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Great Lakes Region, an award taken last year by Curtis Duffy of Grace. As Sarah would be the first to tell you, that’s some pretty rarefied company. Sarah is currently on TV with the amazing Stephanie Izard competing in Iron Chef: Gauntlet. Of the many, many, many, many fun things I’ve done in my life, hosting a cooking demo with the two award-winning chefs in the CBS Radio Culinary Kitchen was a highlight. You can watch that here:
Congratulations to Chefs Rick Bayless and Sarah Grueneberg: Chicago institutions being recognized as the best that America’s culinary tradition has to offer.