By: Christopher Koetke, Laureate International Universities Vice President, Category Management, Culinary Arts
The James Beard Awards is one of the most eagerly anticipated events for the culinary community. For the third year in a row, all eyes will be on the city of Chicago, where the culinary industry’s best and brightest will be recognized for their hard work and creativity.
This time of year, we are able to get a behind-the-scenes look at how chefs are delighting their guests and inspiring others. Last year, cauliflower became the new Brussels sprouts and sunchokes emerged as a top ingredient.
When this year’s James Beard nominees were announced, I couldn’t wait to take a look at their restaurant menus and see the inventive dishes they serve to their guests. What surprised me most was the multitude and variety of ingredients at chefs’ disposal. Chefs have more ingredients than ever before and are using them to their advantage!
But not only are these innovators fusing cultures and incorporating unexpected flavor profiles, they are also developing traditional dishes with a twist.
Here are a few examples. At Parachute in Chicago, Beverly Kim and her husband Johnny Clark, both James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes finalists, are serving a mandu with stinging nettles and pecorino, which is an unbelievable mix.
At Olmsted (Brooklyn, NY), which is a Best New Restaurant finalist, they have incorporated unconventional flavors such as figs, coffee and fennel into their lamb porchetta.
And at Monteverde, an Italian restaurant in Chicago, Best Chef: Great Lakes finalist Sarah Grueneberg has a German-themed dish on the menu called a skate wing schnitzel with sesame, kraut, roasted baby beets and bacon. Even the fegattini calabrese, an Italian small plate, has its own flair thanks to the wok fried chicken livers, tomato, peperoncino and rainbow creamy polenta.
It is almost impossible to sum up the amount of amazing and highly creative pairings of diverse ingredients with just a few examples. Rather, it is the eclectic nature of the many menus in each James Beard Award category that is so truly exciting.
From a creative standpoint, the restaurant industry is light years ahead of where it was when I began my career more than 30 years ago. This does not mean chefs of that era lacked creativity. They simply weren’t able to get their hands on such a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and spices. Even if they were, most customers weren’t eager to try something that they never heard of.
What is on trend today is creativity, uniqueness and serious individuality, and restaurant guests could not be happier. After all, customers now make it a mission to share their meal via social media to make their friends and family jealous.
Chicago is a fitting place to recognize how far the food industry and its leaders have come. After all, Chicago’s food scene has evolved, too. The city, which was once recognized for deep dish pizza, hot dogs and steak, has become a more diverse and dynamic culinary destination.
As a James Beard Gala sponsor, our Kendall College students and faculty would like to welcome this year’s nominees and attendees. Our culinary and hospitality students follow the Awards closely and look up to the nominees and winners. Several Kendall College alumni have been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. Our current students hope that with hard work, dedication and a little luck, they might one day find themselves in the same position.