If you thought the James Beard Foundation kind of bungled its “no awards for 2020 and 2021” announcement last week… Pete Wells in The New York Times is here to say, in the words of Jeremy Irons’ Claus von Bulow, “You have no idea”:

The foundation’s news release said the decision not to name winners in 2020 or 2021 had been made “after serious deliberation and consultation with members of the industry, Award committees, JBF staff, and partners.” But the days leading up to the decision were so frantic that many people close to the awards say they aren’t quite sure what had happened.

It turns out there were a bunch of reasons, and they all seemed to throw the Beards into a confused panic. One was their effort to promote a more diverse base of winners:

At an emergency meeting held on Zoom in late July, a foundation staff member who had seen the final voting results raised a second concern: No Black people had won in any of the 23 categories on the ballot.

0 for 23, that’s… not so good! The Beards’ response was to retroactively kick out past winners from the voting body, on the theory that white guy chefs were voting for more white guy chefs. Probably true, but:

taking them out of the process after the votes had been counted struck many members of the restaurant committee as foul play… “The committee was like, if the results aren’t what we wanted, tough,” said one member, who asked not to be named because of the nondisclosure agreement. “We’re not going to get into vote rigging.”

Another issue was the atmosphere that whips up social media frenzies about chefs (allegedly) behaving badly, no matter how strong or weak the evidence:

Some chefs took themselves out of the running. The foundation asked others to drop out, having deemed them too controversial because new allegations about their personal or professional behavior had surfaced over the summer. The critics, reporters and other media people on the restaurant awards committee say they were overwhelmed by the number and speed with which chefs were falling under suspicion…

Several restaurant committee members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that some of the allegations brought to them were so vague that they weren’t sure what the problem was…

Told that several chefs felt they had no chance to respond to the information against them, [president Mitchell] Davis said, “In questions when people in power are challenged in ways that might undermine that power, not enough weight is given to those who are making those challenges.”

So think about being a well-known, well-regarded chef. The Beards kick people like you off of the voting committee (implying you’re too racist) and they seem caught in a situation where any accusation, made by anybody you ever fired, is taken as being true enough (I don’t know how else you can read Davis’ guilty-if-accused definition of due process) to result in your public humiliation for being removed as a nominee. This in the year that you’re desperately struggling to keep your business afloat and your employees paid and so on.

You think there aren’t a lot of prominent chefs right now thinking, an organization that was supposed to support our industry, instead is creating headaches for us? You think they aren’t thinking, who needs them? When all this is over, how fast do you think those chefs are going to return those phone calls for cooking fancy fundraising dinners?

And it’s not just chefs—practically everyone mentioned or quoted in the story (not least author Pete Wells, a winner and past restaurant committee member) turns out to have been involved with the Beards themselves. They’ve built themselves on involving—some might say co-opting—people throughout the food and food media industry. (Well, except from Chicago!) So now all those people are tied to this mess. How happy do you think they are about that?

“I’m really troubled by the lack of process and transparency,” said Hanna Raskin, who has been on the restaurant committee for three years…

Ms. Raskin and others feel that the foundation has passed up an easy chance to help restaurants whose survival is threatened by the pandemic.

“What stands out to me about this decision is that the vote was conducted, winners were chosen and those winners weren’t allowed to know that they won,” she said. “In this time of crisis for the hospitality industry, the foundation had an opportunity to do right by even one person, and decided not to do that for reasons that remain unclear.”

Is it too early to say that the Beards have imploded? Maybe—they will certainly benefit from the fact that not giving awards for two years kind of freezes the situation in place, giving them time to repair things before positions get too hardened. I hope they do—for all their flaws (the New York-centric blindness, the cozy insiderness) the Beards have been an important voice for the industry (and for me, most certainly, a name I can drop that people know, for which I will be forever grateful).

But award shows depend on everyone believing—or pretending—that there’s a legitimate, above-board process behind it all that makes the awards meaningful. If you’re changing votes after they’ve been taken and canceling nominees over innuendo, plus you’re perceived as abandoning the industry in a year when it could use a strong PR voice, that’s… not how you keep credibility. Self-destruction of a seemingly impregnable institution can happen; the Clios were the biggest, most famous award show in advertising, until the 1991 ceremony (read about it at Wikipedia), and then they never mattered again.

There’s still a little time to try to fix this. Can they?

Note: like Pete Wells, I am a past winner and have been a (media) judge. Also, last week I questioned when they were going to bother to say anything about giving out the journalism awards. Turns out they did that in May, right when riots were at their height; since there were no local nominees, there was no local coverage to speak of, so I missed it.

Buzz 2


If you want to see an event handling this moment better than that, look to Chicago Gourmet, which has pivoted to a virtual festival that includes online events, meal kits, the democratization of the Hamburger Hop (now taking place at 100 individual restaurants) and functioning as a benefit for restaurant workers through a new fund. Also absent: the name of former lead sponsor Bon Appetit, which is media non grata these days. Eater has details.


I did a pizza-by-the-slice list for Thrillist a few years ago and honestly, it was one of the least satisfying listicles to do, because Chicago really is not a slice town, we don’t have the culture of walking around and grabbing a reheated slice. I’m not sure anywhere besides New York really does. (One reason they blow here: those heated display boxes—I call them pizza dehydrators.)

Anyway, Nick Kindelsperger looks at pizza by the slice and gets around the traditional lameness by naming nine best slices, most of them from pretty new places. Maybe we’re on the cusp of a new slice renaissance! Or, more dourly, maybe we’re just becoming more generic and like every other city, trends that didn’t come from here (like square Sicilian/Detroit/Grandma pizza) suddenly becoming dominant while our own traditions fade.

Here’s Kindelsperger making the case:

While the pandemic continues to cripple the local dining scene, restaurants selling slices have blossomed. Oddly, there has never been a better time for the grab-and-go slice in Chicago. In particular, local restaurants are obsessing over Sicilian-style pizza. This style is most often baked in a rectangular pan, before being cut into square slices. Each one looks thick and imposing, yet peek at the crust and you’ll notice large, irregular air pockets, which makes each bite much lighter than you’d imagine.

Not surprisingly, two of the top three are new square pizza places starting with “Pizza Frie—,” and the third is New York-style slice from a Brooklyn import. But check the list out anyway, you may need a slice someday. Though here’s a little secret—the kind of Chicago slice that Kindelsperger disparages, saying “restaurants smother their slices in cheese and toppings, ruining the precious harmony, leading to a greasy, overloaded mess that I’d prefer to hurl at a wall in anger”? Once in a blue moon, I get one of those at a hole in the wall on Devon called Villa Palermo. It’s got no harmony at all, but it tastes like Chicago.


Titus Ruscitti says Kasama, the Filipino cafe and bakery from ex-Oriole staffers Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores, is one of the year’s best openings. On the savory side, “My mind was made up when I saw they’re also offering a traditional Filipino breakfast of longanisa and or tocino (thinly sliced marinated pork) with a fried egg and garlic rice. One of my favorite ways to start the day and this version was as good as it gets. Particularly the house longanisa which ate like a hot link.”

He also finds Skokie’s best jibarito, not a high bar perhaps, but at a place called Pressed Cafe, “The jibarito was well made with the most important part the smashed plantain itself being crisp and not greasy. The tender steak was loaded with the cumin. Mixed with melted cheese and grilled onions made it that much better.”


Kasama is one of two places Steve Dolinsky visits to talk about adobo, the classic Filipino seasoning for chicken and pork—the other is A Taste of the Philippines, a stall in the French Market downtown run by Kathy Vega Hardy:

“Adobo is a very classic dish, it’s probably one of the most well-known dishes in the Philippines,” Hardy said. “It’s chicken or pork, and it’s simmered in soy sauce, vinegar, lots and lots of garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.”… “The acidity with the salt and you include that with the rice…it’s so good,” she said.

He also has a side story on desserts at Kasama, including a new take on halo-halo. And, traveling not too far from the Philippines, he has a story on Same Same, a Thai restaurant in Roscoe Village:

The bold flavors on the plates, and in the bowls at Same Same – a tiny Roscoe Village Thai restaurant with the benefit of both a front and a back patio – are a result of Kris Henry’s frequent backpacking trips with his wife…

They fell in love with the cuisine’s complexity.

“It’s such a great balance of so many ingredients all at one time, kind of firing on all levels,” said Henry.


And continuing this week’s Filipino theme, Seafood City, the Filipino grocery/mall up on Elston, has been around a few years now, but with the advent of a new online ordering app, Louisa Chu checks out its current offerings and guides you to her favorites, including from the bakeshops.

My favorite thing at Seafood City—I knew you were going to ask, thanks!—is to pick up a savoy cabbage and some fresh things like mint, then get a bunch of the chicken skewers from Grill City, and go home and turn it into chicken goi ga, the Vietnamese cabbage salad traditionally made with shredded chicken. I got started doing this when one of my sons was working with classmates on a history class project, and they kept getting burgers on the way home. I figured the glazed grilled skewers would satisfy the teenage boy desire for hunks o’ meat, disguising the fact that they were eating vegetables, too. It was a hit and I’ve made it ever since—though someday they’re going to order it at a real Vietnamese restaurant and be disappointed that they don’t get big, bbq-sauce glazed hunks of grilled chicken.


And continuing… Mike Sula on a Filipino-American chef combining Filipino flavors with, what else, cannabis.


Speaking of pizza trends to come from outside Chicago… nobody has changed Chicago pizza more in the last couple of decades than Jonathan Goldsmith, owner of Spacca Napoli, and Steve Dolinsky talks to him about it on his Pizza City podcast.


One of my best meals last year, at a place that hardly had time to get really appreciated, was the tasting menu at Moody Tongue (properly, The Dining Room at Moody Tongue). It is back open now, as is the bar side, but the bigger news is that they’ve launched a barbecue and grill takeout menu called Moody Tongue Smoked Meats.

As it happens I interviewed chef Jared Wentworth last week for my upcoming book, and we talked for a moment about this, too. He summed up the logic of the move: “I just couldn’t stomach doing a pizza thing. I do a passable pizza at home, but there’s other people that do it a lot better than me and I’m going to let them keep doing it. Barbecue makes sense for us, we’re a brewery at the center of things, so whoever’s taking turns on the pit gets to kick back some brews. And as bad as restaurants are doing, all our farmers are getting murdered. So for me it’s a way to use a bunch of farm stuff—Slagel, Gunthorp, Nichols, all the guys.”


And on that subject… some of those very same farmers (certainly Greg Gunthorp, for one) will be the subjects of the new menu debuting this week at Topolobampo, which has relocated for the time being to the library and test kitchen in the Frontera/Topolo complex (you see the library side of it in the pictures in this piece). The six course menu (plus wine and mezcal) is a tribute to the local farmers who Rick Bayless has been buying from for decades. Seating is limited to a dozen, and dinner begins in the La Vista bar (an event space that has corner windows) and then moves to distanced tables in the HEPA-air-filtered library, where you watch Chef de Cuisine Zach Steen and crew cook in the test kitchen. Go here to book it.


Here’s a listicle for right now from Time Out—a dozen great outdoor drinking and dining spaces. It could get away from the river and into the neighborhoods more, but it’s a start that practically guarantees a few you don’t know about.


Oh jeez, 2020 you suck. Tamale Guy Claudio Velez tested positive for Covid and is in the hospital. (Reportedly he was exposed by a relative, not by a customer.) His just-opened restaurant is temporarily closed. He’s got a GoFundMe here. (Eater)


Maggie Hennessy called attention to this excellent piece at Resy about a place I knew a little growing up in Wichita—Mar’s Garden, a traditional Chinese-American restaurant. I only recall going there once (Albert’s was our Chinese place) but this piece, by a descendant of the original owner, tells the story of Chinese immigrants trying to serve their food in the middlest of middle America in the 1960s and 1970s, and is well worth your time.

And Dennis Lee pays moving tribute to his late cat Cricket, a collaborator in many of his unholy food adventures:

I also wrote about trying a shitload of these Purina Fancy Feast Broths inspired by Top Chef Richard Blais, which wasn’t a prank; I actually tried each and every one I could get my hands on.

She didn’t care for a single one.

I tweeted this at Chef Blais: @RichardBlais I ate 8 flavors of your Fancy Food Broths yesterday. They were okay. My cat didn’t want to eat them, though. I wrote a review.

He blocked me.