Monday, February 3, 2014

Get to know your Jean Banchet Award winners

Posted By on 02.03.14 at 10:00 AM

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  • Grand Chefs Gala/Twitter

To no one's surprise Grace, by near universal acclaim the finest fine-dining restaurant to open here in years, dominated the Jean Banchet Awards on Friday night—slightly awkwardly, since the master of ceremonies was Grace's own general manager, Michael Muser. Hey, it's a small world, but considering that the nominations are made by the general public and the winners voted on by their peers, no one doubts Grace's triumph. Grace won five awards, including Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year (Curtis Duffy), Best Chef de Cuisine (Nicholas Romero), Best Restaurant Service, and Best Sommelier (Valerie Cao). The annual benefit dinner for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is named for chef Jean Banchet, who died in December.

As it happens, nearly everyone who won has been the subject of coverage by the Reader in either Key Ingredient or Cocktail Challenge, the most recent just a few weeks ago, so if you want to know more about what made the winners stand out, here's how we've covered them on their own turf—but in our own way.

Restaurant of the Year, Best Chef de Cuisine (Nicholas Romero), Best Restaurant Service, Best Sommelier (Valerie Cao): Grace

Grace staffer Bobby Schaffer, a nominee for Rising Pastry Chef of the Year, didn't win, but his recent Key Ingredient episode takes you inside Grace's very white kitchen:

Chef of the Year: Curtis Duffy, Grace

Chef Duffy was featured three years ago in the second-ever episode of Key Ingredient, back when he was still at (now closed) Avenues:

Best New Restaurant: Fat Rice

Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice cooked pig uterus the right way and the wrong way (his description) in this Key Ingredient episode from April 2013:

Rising Chef, Best Restaurant Design: Thai Dang, Embeya

Thai Dang put an Asian spin on a Mexican ingredient last August, and you can see why Embeya's Asian-influenced design topped that category:

Pastry Chef of the Year: Leigh Omilinsky, Cafe des Architectes

Omilinsky of the Sofitel's restaurant Cafe des Architectes tackled chia seeds in a Key Ingredient at the start of January:

Rising Pastry Chef: Thomas Raquel, Acadia

Raquel of South Loop Acadia made granita out of horned melon in November:

Best Mixologist: Paul McGee, Three Dots and a Dash

McGee, the mixologist and guiding spirit behind tiki haven Three Dots and a Dash, was featured in Cocktail Challenge way back in September 2011, when he was still at the Whistler.

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