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Chicago's Lula Cafe among big winners at James Beard Awards

Culinary excellence showcased at James Beard Awards in Chicago
Culinary excellence showcased at James Beard Awards in Chicago 02:31

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The James Beard Awards—considered the Oscars of the culinary and hospitality world—were held Monday night in Chicago.

The red carpet for the award ceremony, held at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr. was filled with a who's who of the restaurant industry. Chefs from incredible restaurants all over the country converged upon Chicago to honor the very best.

"We often get overlooked sometimes," said Jenner Tomaska, executive chef at Esmé, 2200 N. Clark St., and a James Beard Award nominee, "so to be a part of the Chicago community and, you know, support and throw the party here, and invite – it's, I think, really impactful."

A household-name Chicago chef – Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolomampo, and Xoco fame and the host of the PBS show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time"—was more than pleased to have the awards ceremony in time.

"There is no place in all of this country that is as hospitable as Chicago," Bayless said.

Jason Hammell knows hospitality well. His restaurant, Lula Café at 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd. in Logan Square, won the James Beard Award for outstanding hospitality Monday night.

Chicago's Lula Cafe wins James Beard Award 00:18

"Here in Chicago, we're a tight community. We support each other," Hammell said before the awards were announced. "It means a lot to celebrate the culinary community nationwide here in our town."

More than 100 chefs are nominated across 22 categories. Esmé's Tomaska and Sujan Sarkar of Indienne, 217 W. Huron St., were each nominated for best chef.

"It's great," said Sarkar. "I'm already in the final. It's kind of a win—if we get it or not. It's absolutely a pleasure to be here."

The nomination for outstanding pastry chef or baker brought a mix of emotions for Anna Posey of Elske, 1350 W. Randolph St.

"Good, nervous, excited—all the feelings," said Posey. "It's everything. This is such a huge award."

This year, Lula Café was the only Chicago restaurant to win a James Beard Award.

Michael Rafidi of Albi in Washington, D.C., won for outstanding chef; Langbaan in Portland, Oregon, for outstanding restaurant; Erika and Kelly Whitaker of the Id Est Hospitality Group in Boulder, Colorado, for outstanding restaurateur; and Dakar NOLA in New Orleans for best new restaurant.

For Best Chef of the Great Lakes Region—which, for James Beard Award purposes, includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio—Hajime Sato of Sozai in Clawson, Michigan, was the winner.

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