The late, great chef Jean Banchet, credited with bringing fine French dining to our corner of the world at his seminal Le Français in Wheeling, was smiling down on the Chicago restaurant world this past weekend. The 16th 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. 14.
The Chicago restaurant world was out in force and dressed to the nines. Award presenters Carrie Nahabedian (NAHA, Brindille), Curtis Duffy (formerly of Grace), “Top Chef” judge Graham Elliott (Gideon Sweet), and Breakfast Queen Ina Pinkney rubbed shoulders with nominees Noah Sandoval (Oriole), Andrew Zimmerman (Proxi, Sepia), and Cameron Grant (Osteria Langhe, Animale) while all reveled in a well-deserved night off.
The evening of celebration kicked off with a champagne reception sponsored by Champagne Henriot, followed by the main event: the award ceremony, hosted by the inimitable Michael Muser, aided and abetted by “the crew” from 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 the evening’s highlight was Muser’s assistant, aspiring chef Evie Murphy, who handed out the medals. The charming 9-year-old, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, showed amazing poise, and a great sense of comic timing.
Katsu and Haruko Imamura, who retired in November 2017 after a 29-year run at their iconic Rogers Park sushi restaurant (“one of the best sushi restaurants in the country,” according to Muser), were awarded the Banchet Culinary Achievement Award. Other highlights of the evening included surprise award presenter actor/director Eriq LaSalle (“ER”, “Logan”); a touching “In Memoriam” segment that celebrated the lives of Luigi Negroni (Carlucci) and Jeanne Marie Uzdawinis (Café Selmarie); and a compelling video about living with CF, “Adding Tomorrows.”
After the ceremony, it was time for everyone to party together, chef-style, which means lots of Chicago comfort food, like grits topped with chicken cracklings from Honey Butter Fried Chicken; bulgogi soft tacos from Seoul Taco; White Castle burgers; 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:
- Rising Chef of the Year: Nick Dostal of Sixteen
- Rising Pastry Chef of the Year: Kyleen Atonson of Honey’s
- Best Bar (new category): Income Tax
- Best Service: Oriole
- Best Mixologist: Amit Gilad of GreenRiver
- Best Neighborhood Restaurant: Daisies, Joe Frillman
- Best Sommelier: Parag Lalit of Sixteen
- Best Chef de Cuisine: Bill Montagne of Nico Osteria
- Best Ethnic Restaurant: Ras Dashen Ethiopian
- Best Restaurant Design: Proxi
- Banchet Culinary Achievement Award: Katsu and Haruko Imamura of Katsu
- Best New Restaurant: Smyth, John and Karen Shields
- Best Pastry Chef: Anna Posey of Elske
- Chef of the Year: Andrew Zimmerman of Proxi and Sepia
- Restaurant of the Year: Monteverde, Chef Sarah Grueneberg
Don’t miss the next amazing opportunity to rub shoulders — and even dine tableside — with some of Chicago’s top chefs, all while raising money for the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — the Grand Chefs Experience at Field Museum. On Friday, Feb. 2, be among the 600 guests who will enjoy custom curated food, cocktails, and pastries while supporting an incredibly worthy cause. Make It Better is proud to be a media sponsor of this special event.
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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 sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.