Chicago Gears Up to Host 25th James Beard Awards

Whether or not you’ve got a ticket to the coveted awards, often dubbed the "Oscars of food", here are some fun ways to celebrate Chicago’s impressive dining scene.

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After 24 years in New York City, this year’s prestigious James Beard Foundation Restaurant & Chef Awards — often dubbed “the Oscars of food” — are moving west, to Chicago. More than 2,500 of the country’s top chefs, restaurateurs and food-media people will descend upon the Windy City this weekend, and editors will be there to fill you in on all the action. But the proud, food-obsessed host city has plans that extend well beyond Monday night’s awards ceremony and gala, hosted by our own Alton Brown. Whether or not you’ve got a ticket to the coveted awards, here are some fun ways to celebrate Chicago’s impressive dining scene — all are open to the public, and some are even free.

Need Chicago restaurant recommendations? Check out Food Network’s Newcomer’s Chicago Eating Tour to get our picks for the best burger, pizza, new restaurant and more can’t-miss eats.

James Beard Eats Week, April 30 — May 8

It’s like Restaurant Week, but better. Dozens of Chicago restaurants are serving up special menus and dishes to honor James Beard, known as the “dean of American cookery.” Check out the participating restaurants and their offerings.

Saveur magazine and Chicago’s Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group are hosting a series of dinners at Intro, LEYE’s new rotating-chef restaurant. The dinners will feature six-course collaborations between Rising Star Chef finalists Ari Taymor (Alma, Los Angeles) and Jessica Largey (Manresa, Los Gatos, Calif.), Intro chefs and other visiting chefs. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit James Beard Foundation. Rich Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You, is the recipient of this year’s James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. Purchase tickets here.

Chicago’s Green City farmers market will kick off its 17th season with a morning reception in honor of the Beard Awards. Some of Chicago’s past Beard Award winners will welcome visiting chefs, and tastings of Abby’s Crepes and wood-fired pizza from Nomad Food Co. will be served. Free admission.

Rockit Bar & Grill will celebrate its grand reopening with a benefit that’s ideal for those who appreciate an epic boxing match as well as great food. The much-anticipated showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will be broadcast live while guests chow down on selections from Rockit and its sister restaurants The Duck Inn, Bottlefork and Sunda. Proceeds will support the James Beard Foundation’s scholarship funds and culinary programs. Purchase tickets here.

Barbecue, whiskey and live-music spot Bub City will host several local breweries on May 2 from 10 p.m. to close. Taps will be taken over by Moody Tongue, Local Option, Penrose, Half Acre and Revolution, and there will also be live music from the Senn Alan Band. No tickets required.

Italy meets the Midwest as renowned Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini takes over Chicago’s RPM Steak for an evening of demonstrations, Tuscan wine and, of course, an incredible multicourse meal featuring Cecchini’s famous Florentine steaks made with beef from Illinois’ Slagel Farms. Purchase tickets here.

On Sunday, May 3, Philadelphia’s Marc Vetri, a Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Chef, will lead an Italian cooking class at Chicago’s Nico Osteria, whose chef, Erling Wu-Bower, is nominated in the Best Chef: Great Lakes category. Vetri will demonstrate techniques and recipes for fresh pasta from his new cookbook, Mastering Pasta, and guests will then enjoy the pasta along with salumi, cheese, wine and desserts. On Tuesday, after the awards, Vetri will be back at Nico Osteria to prepare a four-course, family-style dinner. Purchase tickets for both events here.

The day before the Beard Awards, Chicago’s favorite tiki bar, Three Dots and a Dash, is celebrating with its first-ever pig roast and luau. Visiting mixologists and pitmasters will be on hand to mix classic and modern tiki cocktails and cook Polynesian-inspired luau fare for this afternoon party. Purchase tickets here.

The James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards were held last Friday in New York. Check out the winners and our recap here, and head back to FN Dish for coverage of the Chef and Restaurant Awards in Chicago next week.

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