Home World Lula Cafe wins 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef award

Lula Cafe wins 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef award

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Lula Cafe was announced as the only winner from Chicago at the 2024 James Beard Restaurant and Chef awards ceremony held at the Lyric Opera House Monday. The awards are widely considered one of the highest culinary honors in the United States. For almost a decade, Chicago has been the award show’s home and a major winner.

Lula Cafe won in the Outstanding Hospitality category.

Other local nominated chefs included Sujan Sarkar of Indienne, Jenner Tomaska of Esmé and Anna Posey of Elske.

The ceremony was live-streamed on Eater.com and hosted by a group of chefs including Nyesha Arrington, Richard Blais, Amanda Freitag and Marcus Samuelsson, as well as CBS host and correspondent Michelle Miller.

Hammel, 2019’s Jean Banchet Chef of the Year and three-time Best Chef: Great Lakes category nominee, took the stage after Lula Cafe won for Outstanding Hospitality.

“We truly believe at Lula that hospitality is love. And it’s a love with conditions… we believe that the conditions can be fair and just and kind,” Hammel said. “And I hope that everyone here and in the world and especially those with power will enact policies that protect and ensure that these conditions can be met and maintained for everyone. We will certainly hold ourselves to that goal.”

It was the first James Beard win for the Logan Square staple. The cafe has been run by Hammel and Amalea Tshilds for over 25 years and partners with local organizations to offer meals to the neighborhood.

“This one’s really special to me because it’s a team award that recognizes all of us,” Hammel said on the red carpet. “Hospitality isn’t just about relationships with guests. It’s about relationships between us… It’s an important, real central value for how we run our business and I’m really proud to be recognized for this.”

Other restaurants competing in the Outstanding Hospitality category included Crawford and Son in Raleigh, North Carolina, Gemma in Dallas, Melba’s in New York and Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland.

Earlier in the ceremony, Kasama chefs Genie Kwon and Tim Flores, last year’s Best Chef: Great Lakes winners, presented the category. But in a rare loss for Chicago in the category, chef Hajime Sato of Sozai in Clawson, Michigan, took home the award.

Other chefs competing in the category included two chefs offering fine-dining tasting menus from Chicago: Sujan Sarkar of Indienne and Jenner Tomaska of Esmé. Both Esmé and Indienne have one Michelin star. Vinnie Cimino of Cordelia in Cleveland and Jose Salazar of Mita’s in Cincinnati were also finalists.

On the red carpet before the awards, Tomaska said he’s “honestly humbled to have found a fantastic team to uplift our message at Esmé.” He also acknowledged another Chicago nominee, Hammel, saying the Lula chef was “the staple of Chicago and has been for 20-some years.”

Several Chicago restaurant institutions have won this category over the past 10 years, including Grant Achatz of Alinea in 2007, Koren Grieveson of Avec in 2010, Stephanie Izard of Girl & The Goat in 2013, Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde in 2017, and Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute in 2019, which has since closed.

Early in the night, Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery in Portland bested Chicago’s Posey of Elske in the Outstanding Baker or Pastry Chef category. The Danish-influenced Elske has been nominated twice before. Alongside husband and partner Chef David Posey, Anna Posey and the team at Elske have maintained a Michelin star since 2017.

Other chefs competing in the Outstanding Baker or Pastry Chef category included Susan Brae of Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C., Jesus Brazon and Manuel Prazon of Caracas Bakery in Doral, Florida and Miami, and Crystal Kass of Valentine in Phoenix.

All four Chicago nominees this year have received multiple culinary honors and recognition from the Michelin Guide. Lula Cafe was named a Bib Gourmand winner in 2020, while Esmé, Indienne and Elske all have been awarded one Michelin star.

Several Chicago restaurants and chefs were semifinalists in other categories but did not make it to the list of final nominees this year, including John Shields and Karen Urie Shields for Outstanding Chef; Nicolas Poilevey, Oliver Poilevey and Marcos Carabajal for Outstanding Restaurateur; Zubair Mohajir for Emerging Chef; Duck Inn for Outstanding Restaurant; and Atelier for Best New Restaurant.

Other notable winners from around the country include Dakar NOLA for Best New Restaurant, Kelly Whitaker of Id Est Hospitality Group in Colorado for Outstanding Restaurateur and Masako Morishita of Perry’s in Washington, D.C., for Emerging Chef.

Chef and previous Beard nominee Elizabeth Falkner is a member of the James Beard Foundation Board of Trustees. She complimented the cultural and regional diversity of the awards.

“We have so much great culture and food and cuisines across the country everywhere,” Falkner said.

The event marks the third year since major changes at the foundation as a result of critique from the broader industry. The James Beard Foundation held an audit in 2021 to address criticisms of bias and lack of transparency, which reorganized the committee and voting body behind the awards to better align with the Foundation’s stated values. The foundation also implemented a code of ethics for potential awards participants, which lists some behaviors as against the foundation’s and the awards program’s ethics, including tip-stealing, discrimination, harassment and abuse. Those found in violation of the code of ethics after an investigation may be disqualified.

The awards have been held in Chicago since 2015 and guests from outside the culinary industry also attend. Taking the stage, mayor Brandon Johnson touted the city’s food and dining scene.

“Chicago is home to more than 50 James Beard award-winning chefs and restaurants whose food, talent, passion and brilliance continue to put our city on the map,” he said.

It was a quieter year for Chicago than previous years, but chefs and industry professionals at the event were excited about the city’s food scene.

“Chicago is such a world-class food city,” Blais said on the red carpet. “As a native New Yorker; part of that pains me a little bit.”



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