James Beard Awards 2024: 17 Chicago chefs, restaurants on semifinalist list

Carnitas Uruapan, The Coach House by Wazwan and The Duck Inn are among the 17 Chicago restaurants and chefs that are semifinalists for this year’s James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards, organizers announced Wednesday morning.

The award ceremony highlighting restaurants and chefs nationwide returns to Chicago on June 10 at the Lyric Opera. What some consider the “Oscars of the restaurant world” brings power players from across the industry to the city each year.

With a representation of locales ranging from Shawnee, Kansas, and Alna, Maine to New York City and Los Angeles, Chicago seems spread pretty evenly between categories once again this year. Neighborhood mainstays like Lula Cafe and Le Bouchon mesh with new media darlings like Atelier, which is a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

Seven Chicago chefs were nominated out of 20 for the regional category Best Chef: Great Lakes, a smidgen up from last year’s five, including Diana Dávila Boldin of Mi Tocaya Antojería, Joe Fontelera for Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant, Joe Frillman for Daisies, James Martin of Bocadillo Market, Sujan Sarkar of Indienne, Jenner Tomaska for Esme and Donald Young for Duck Sel. Dávila Boldin was a finalist for the award last year, which ultimately went to Genie Kwon and Tim Flores of Kasama.

The Emerging Chef Award includes Zubair Mohajir of The Coach House by Wazwan as one of the 20 semifinalists. Chicago chef Damarr Brown of Virtue took the award home last year, and last year Mohajir was a semifinalist for Best Chef Great Lakes.

Unlike in 2023, Chicago did receive nods this year in the Outstanding Restaurateurs and Outstanding Chef categories.

Brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey of Obelix, Le Bouchon and Taqueria Chingón face Marcos Carbajal of Carnitas Uruapan in the category for Outstanding Restaurateur. Obelix was nominated last year for Best New Restaurant but lost to Kann in Portland, Oregon.

John Shields and Karen Urie Shields of Smyth were semifinalists for Outstanding Chef. Last year Smyth was one of 20 restaurants in the Outstanding Restaurant category, and it earned the title of Chicago’s second three-starred Michelin restaurant. Chef Kevin Hickey’s The Duck Inn in Bridgeport is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category.

Valeria Socorro Velazquez Lindsten’s Loba Pastry+Coffee is among 20 semifinalists nationwide for Outstanding Bakery, while Anna Posey of Elske is among the semifinalists for Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker.

Chicago was shut out of the Outstanding Bar category, but Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois, received a semifinalist nomination, its second in two years. Chicago’s first natural winery Middle Brow is up for the Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program award.

From here, Beards committee members and judges will visit the semifinalists and vote on the criteria for each category. The top five voted in each category will be announced as the final nominees and the winners will be announced June 10.