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The 5 James Beard Award Winners You Need to Know in 2016

Yes, we have some favorites.

Last night, at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, restaurant industry leaders from across the country sat down together for a TV Dinner. A night of celebrating TV and Dinner, that is.

It was the 2016 James Beard Awards Gala, and the theme of the ceremony was inspired by Beard’s 1947 food program on NBC, which was one of the first cooking shows in the country. The event was hosted by Carla Hall, a restaurateur who is no stranger to the kitchen or to the camera: Hall was a competitor on Top Chef and a co-host of ABC’s The Chew. And naturally, the night included some pretty creative eats: former James Beard Foundation Award recipients drew inspiration from television shows to cook up over 2,000 dishes for the attendees.

Since the first award ceremony in 1991, The James Beard Foundation has been bestowing the highest honors in the industry to chefs, restaurateurs, authors, designers, and architects. Think of it as the Oscars, but with better food.

Here are some of our favorite winners for the 2016 James Beard Awards.

Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Café.

Restaurant and Chef Awards
Outstanding Baker
Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
When Joanne Chang said goodbye to her career as a management consultant, and instead picked up her rolling pin and a bag of flour in in the mid nineties, the culinary world became a little bit sweeter. Chang was a pastry chef in restaurants throughout the east coast, and eventually opened up Flour in Boston’s South End. After a stop at Flour Bakery + Cafe, we couldn’t help but cheer when Chang won this well-deserved award!

Best New Restaurant
ShayaNew Orleans.
AFAR sat down with chef Alon Shaya just before the restaurant’s big win and talked about the current food scene in New Orleans. “Young chefs are now cooking Chinese food or Caribbean food. And, of course, Shaya is an Israeli restaurant,” Shaya said, “Five years ago that wouldn’t have worked in this city.”

Best Chef
Renee Erickson, The Whale Wins, Seattle
Back in 2013, when chef Sean Eastwood of Navio restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, showed us some of Seattle’s best eats, we fell hard for Renee Erickson’s restaurants. The Whale Wins and The Walrus and the Carpenter are just two of the acclaimed chef's restaurants, all of which speak to the local flavors of the Pacific Northwest.

Harvesting an agave plant in Oaxaca.
Outstanding Wine Beer or Spirits
Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Single Village MezcalNew Mexico
If you’ve read your way through the May/June issue of AFAR,
you know how we feel about mezcal—and we can’t stop thinking about this agave-based spirit! Just last week we headed to Oaxaca for A Sommelier’s Guide to Mexico. In our books, a win for Ron Cooper and the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal is a win for us all.

Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America
Chef and Restaurateur
Marcus Samuelsson, New York City
The chef behind Red Rooster and Streetbird Rotisserie in Harlem was recipient of the a James Beard Best Chef award in 2003, and since then he has continued to transform the way we eat, write, and think about food and cooking—not to mention how we travel for food. “I always look for where the locals eat, and I like the find the grit in the city,” Samuelsson told us when we asked about his travel ritual.

>>Next: Wandering Chef: Jody Adams in Thessaloniki