05/02/2014 01:35 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Chicago Gears Up for the James Beard Awards

It seems that something very special is cooking in Chicago. Literally.

A French friend visited me recently on her annual passage to see family in the Midwest and the East Coast. She said something I have felt for a while. "Chicago has even better restaurants than New York."

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel said it best when he welcomed the James Beard Foundation to Chicago Tuesday morning, March 18th, for the nominees announcement ceremony held at Publican Restaurant. "The James Beard Foundation honors great chefs. In Chicago, we produce great chefs."

James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro, agreed with the Mayor and his nod to Chicago's culinary traditions beginning with Charlie Trotter, saying, "Chicago celebrates the New American Cuisine with a wonderful array of chefs."

James Beard Foundation board member and restaurateur of Vermilion, Rohini Dey, concurred. "Chicago has become adventurously urban and global -- as much as any other city -- with restaurants like BellyQ, Embeya and Topolobampo."

The impact of so many great chefs and excellent restaurants can be felt by the James Beard Foundation announcing its nominees in Chicago, rather than New York. There is even talk that perhaps in the future the final awards ceremony might go on the road, potentially to Chicago.

Chef Dave Beran of Next restaurant, nominated for Best Chef of the Great Lakes, had this to say about the large amount of semi-finalists, 25, which are from Chicago. "I have been cooking with these chefs for years. All of a sudden we are all in the same spotlight together with chefs [from other cities] we've looked up to. It is pretty amazing."

On the last Dinner Party, previous James Beard Award winners, chefs Carrie Nahabedian and Rick Bayless, discussed what makes Chicago such a fertile ground for culinary creativity and success. "We are in it together," Carrie noted. "If one restaurants fails, we all fail. if one succeeds, we all succeed."

To get a feel for the camaraderie on stage between the chefs and the unassuming relationship of the chefs to the public, watch this video of celebrity Chef Bayless doing a passionate and dramatic reading of Watermelon-Ginger Guacamole on The Dinner Party.

Chicago goes to the final round for the James Beard Awards with 12 nominations (see below) in the 59 categories, in addition to the induction of last year's winner of Outstanding Chef, Paul Kahan, into the James Beard Foundation 'Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America'. The winners will be announced at the May 5 Awards ceremony and gala reception held at New York City's Lincoln Center. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased at

Outstanding Bar Program
The Violet Hour

Outstanding Pastry Chef
Dana Cree, Blackbird

Outstanding Restaurant

Outstanding Restaurateur
Donnie Madia, One Off Hospitality Group

Outstanding Service

Rising Star Chef of the Year
Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig
David Posey, Blackbird

Best Chef: Great Lakes
Dave Beran, Next
Curtis Duffy, Grace
Paul Virant, Vie Restaurant, (Slated for The Dinner Party 10/14)
Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia

Restaurant Design, 75 Seats and Under