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James Beard Winners With Connections to the Twin Cities

Tilia chef-owner Steven Brown, a James Beard Award finalist in the Best Chef: Midwest category. Brown was also a 2012, 2013 and 2014 semifinalist.

I was sitting upstairs at Tilia while the staff took turns in the back checking the live internet feed to see if their boss, Steven Brown, would walk away with the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest.

My peppery pasta was perfect, as was the squid appetizer and the chocolate cake. If I had been voting, the outcome might have been different. But as Tilia’s chef came upstairs to report the outcome, we learned that it wasn’t Brown or Jorge Guzman of the Brewer’s Table at Surly Brewing Co. that won this year, but rather Kevin Nashan, chef/owner of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis. Nashan was born in Chicago and raised in Santa Fe and cooks in St. Louis.

Ironically, earlier our guest at dinner asked if we had any recommendations for restaurants in Chicago, where she and her chef boyfriend were heading in a few weeks. I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I knew it was Rick Bayless’ Mexican concept that was elegant and filled with colorful art. Turns out I was trying to recommend the 2017 Beard winner for Outstanding Restaurant, Topolobampo on Clark Street in Chicago.

And one last connection: I met this year’s Outstanding Chef winner, Michael Solomonov, when he was a guest chef at Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable, back when it was brand new to the North Loop. The delicious dinner came with a copy of his award-winning cookbook that graces my book shelves, still in mint condition, I’m embarrassed to say. Solomonov is an Israeli chef and restaurateur known for his landmark Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav. He won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011.

And last but not least, Andrew Zimmern, who was the keynoter at Foodservice News’ own Restaurant Business Summit a couple of times years ago, won outstanding personality/host for “Bizarre Foods.” I’m not saying we launched his TV career, but we did know him when.

For the rest of the winners of the award ceremony hosted in Chicago Monday, May 1, you’ll have to go online. Sorry, that’s all the connections I have.

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