Slideshow: The Jean Banchet Awards, Where Matthias Merges, Sepia, Acadia Won Big


The culinary scene is full of flashy personalities, and sometimes it seems like a chef can even rise to prominence without the pesky detail of actually feeding anyone, but at the Jean Banchet Awards on Friday night, there was a general feeling that they’d done a good job picking the hard workers and generous mentors on the Chicago restaurant scene who also know how to turn out great food. The list of such included Matthias Merges (Yusho), who won Best Chef, Andrew Zimmerman’s Sepia which won Best Restaurant, Chris Nugent of Goosefoot and Ryan McCaskey’s Acadia, among others. The awards, which drew a crowd of hundreds to the Fairmont Hotel to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, are named for the celebrated chef of Le Français in Wheeling in the 1970s and 1980s, which was considered possibly the best restaurant in America at the time— though unlike last year, Banchet himself did not travel from his current residence in Florida to attend personally. The complete list of winners is below, as is our man Huge Galdones’ visual account of the starstudded night.

Matthias Merges, the longtime heart and soul of Charlie Trotter’s kitchen who went out on his own with Yusho and now Billy Sunday, won Chef of the Year, while Sepia, led by Andrew Zimmerman who is widely admired not only as a rock-solid chef but a teacher and trainer of young chefs, won Best Restaurant. Chris Nugent, the chef nobody knew during all those years at Les Nomades, who finally burst onto the scene as an “overnight” success with the restaurant he and his wife scrimped and saved to open, Goosefoot, won Rising Chef. (He, like Merges, wasn’t there because he was serving guests on Friday night, as usual.) And Ryan McCaskey, who may come from money and a celebrated Chicago name, but who’s undoubtedly worked his way up and paid dues the whole way before opening his own place, Acadia, saw it take home two awards, for Best New Restaurant and Best Sommerlier (Jason Prah), while a new award, Best Service, went, to no one’s surprise, to Alinea.

The awards were emceed by Grace sommelier Michael Muser, who admitted that it would have been harder to work up the energy to do the job if his restaurant had gotten less than four stars that very morning from Phil Vettel in the Tribune. As it was, he and chef Curtis Duffy seemed to be walking on at least a couple of inches of air all night, and it seems likely that they will be back as winners next year— especially since Duffy already won both Rising Chef and Best Chef in past years for Avenues.

2012 Jean Banchet Awards

Chef of the Year: Matthias Merges, Yusho
Ryan McCaskey, Acadia
Dan Pancake, Autre Monde
Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia

Pastry Chef of the Year: Sarah Jordan, BOKA
Toni Roberts, theWit Hotel
Cindy Schuman, Sepia
Kady Yon, Pump Room at Public Chicago

Chef-de-Cuisine: David Posey, Blackbird
Richie Farina, Moto
Jan Rickerl, Girl & the Goat
Carl Shelton, BOKA

Rising Chef: Chris Nugent, Goosefoot
Iliana Regan, Elizabeth
Phil Rubino, Moderno
Dominic Zumpano, Market House on the Square

Rising Pastry Chef: Leigh Omilinsky, Café des Architectes
Claire Crenshaw, Moto
Melissa Humphrey, Pastries Not Potatoes
Ben Walker, Renaissance Chicago

Best Sommelier: Jason Prah, Acadia
John Aranza, Autre Monde
Kevin Bratt, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Scott Harney, Eno

Best Mixologist: Ben Schiller, BOKA
Lynn House, Blackbird
Paul McGee, Three Dots and a Dash
Michael Simon

Best Restaurant: Sepia
Girl & the Goat

Best Restaurant Service: Alinea
Autre Monde

Best New Restaurant: Acadia

Best Catering Company: BOKA Catering
Big Delicious Planet
Blue Plate

People’s Choice Award: Fabio Viviani, Siena Tavern

Slideshow: The Jean Banchet Awards, Where Matthias Merges, Sepia, Acadia Won Big