The 17th annual Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, presented by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, were held at the South Loop’s Venue SIX10 on Sunday, Jan. 13 with over 400 people — a mix of culinary insiders, media, and fans — in attendance. The late, great chef Jean Banchet, who is credited with bringing fine French dining to our corner of the Midwest at his seminal Le Français restaurant in Wheeling, would’ve been especially thrilled with this year’s results. In a surprise upset, the top award of Restaurant of the Year went to Winnetka’s George Trois, helmed by Banchet protegé Michael Lachowicz.
The night of celebration kicked off with a champagne reception sponsored by Champagne Henriot, with a few nibbles to keep the hungry hordes sated during the award ceremony. Michael Muser was aided and abetted by “the kids” from the hilarious improv group The Restaurant (Alex Garday, Erin Goldsmith, Alex Moss, and Bob Rafferty). Throughout, the four comedians added hilarious bits and color commentary that had the audience roaring in approval.
I’m sure all present would agree that Muser’s right-hand gal for the event, 10-year-old CF junior ambassador Evie, stole the show. She displayed amazing poise, and a great sense of comic timing to boot.
Michael Foley, the legendary Chicago chef who spearheaded the farm-to-table movement here at his ground-breaking Printer’s Row restaurant in the South Loop, was awarded the Banchet Culinary Achievement Award, and he gave a lengthy, rambling but heart-felt acceptance speech. Other highlights of the evening included a touching “In Memoriam” segment that celebrated the lives of several departed members of the Chicago restaurant community; and a compelling video about Cynthia Abi Gerges, a young Lebanese woman with CF who is thriving after a lifesaving double lung transplant here in Chicago. She will be the honoree at the Feb. 1 Grand Chef’s Experience at the Field Museum.
After the ceremony, it was time for everyone to party together, chef-style, which means lots of Chicago comfort food, including bulgogi soft tacos from Seoul Taco; White Castle sliders; Stan’s Donuts; and Portillo’s Italian beef and Polish sausage. The music played on, and the beverages flowed. There’s no party like a restaurant party, and all for a great cause.
The evening’s award winners:
- Restaurant of the Year: George Trois, Chef Michael Lachowicz
- Chef of the Year: Jason Hammel (Lula Café, Marisol)
- Rising Chef of the Year: Alisha Elenz (mfk. restaurant)
- Best Chef de Cuisine: Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird)
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Nicole Guini (Blackbird, Avec)
- Rising Pastry Chef of the Year: Elaine Townsend (Fat Rice)
- Best Neighborhood Restaurant: Pizzeria Bebu
- Best Heritage Restaurant: A Place by DAMAO
- Best New Restaurant: S.K.Y., Chef Stephen Gillanders
- Best Sommelier: Jill Gubesch (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Leña Brava)
- Best Mixologist: Stephanie Andrews (Billy Sunday)
- Best Restaurant Design: Pacific Standard Time
- Best Service: Temporis
- Best Bar: Moody Tongue
- Best Counter Service (new award): Calumet Fisheries
- Banchet Culinary Achievement Award: Michael Foley of Printer’s Row
There are still two more great opportunities to support CFF this winter, too.
On Feb. 1, CFF’s signature event, the Grand Chefs Experience, will be held once again at the Field Museum. More than 600 guests will enjoy the sit-down portion of the event, which begins in the upper balcony overlooking the Main Hall with a Chefs’ Tasting of individual hors d’oeuvres stations, open bars, and a culinary-themed silent auction. Afterward, guests will head downstairs to hang out with Maximo, the world’s largest dinosaur, and guests at reserved sponsor tables will enjoy Chef Tableside Service with signature dishes from top chefs. Following the live program, the Nightcap portion begins with custom cocktails from top local mixologists and desserts from local pastry chefs. Many chefs, truly committed to this worthy nonprofit, return year after year. 2018 participants included Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Abe Conlon (Fat Rice), Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya Antojeria), Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia, Proxi), and Doug Psaltis (RPM Steak).
Tables of 10 for the 2019 Grand Chefs Experience start at $5,000 for the full evening; Nightcap tickets (for access from 9 p.m. to midnight) are $100 each. Find more information and purchase tickets on the event website.
Also attending the event this year will be Colton Underwood, who is currently starring on ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
Lastly, on Feb. 22, those in the western ‘burbs will want to kick off St. Patrick’s Day early with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 7th annual Shamrockin’ for a Cure, which will be held in Countryside and presented by Hinsdale Nurseries. The lively evening celebrates all things Irish with food, drinks, live entertainment, a premium auction, and more.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits.