The Great Lakes region and the James Beard Awards have had a bit of a complicated relationship in years past.
Considered one of the U.S. restaurant industry’s highest honors, the awards in this region — which encompasses Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana — have historically overwhelmingly gone to restaurants and individuals in Chicago. Over the years, chefs in the region’s other states have learned to temper their expectations about even making it to the Beard’s “long list” of semifinalists.
This year, however, the semifinalists represent a broader cross-section of professionals across the region’s four states. Fourteen Michigan names are in the running this year, in addition to 12 names out of Ohio, 12 in Illinois, and two in Indiana. The Beard’s nominees will be revealed on Wednesday, March 29, followed by the awards gala in Chicago on Monday, June 5.
In recognition of this shift in geographic representation and acknowledgement of the burgeoning talents that continue to come out of the Great Lakes region, Hazel Park pop-up venue and culinary incubator Frame will host a three-night dinner series, Great Lakes Eat + Drink Week, Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11, bringing together 18 semifinalists from the Great Lakes region. On each of the three nights, participating chefs will be assigned to teams of six or seven semifinalists to collaborate on multi-course menus that complement what each chef brings to the table.
Among the Michigan folks who’ve made the list for the first time whose teams will take part in the dining series: Sandy Levine (who’s up for outstanding restaurateur for his ownership of Freya, Chartreuse, and the Oakland in Ferndale), April Anderson of Good Cakes and Bakes (under consideration in the outstanding bakery category), and Amado Lopez of Casa Amado Taqueria (for the emerging chef category).
“It’s people who cook well,” says Mark Kurlyandchik, editorial director of Frame. “But [it’s] also [people who] are doing really great things in their community and are becoming leaders in the field to help make the restaurant world a better place.”
In addition to making strides in terms of geographic diversity, the Beard’s has also worked to address criticism in recent years over the longstanding biases embedded into the awards process. Following a comprehensive 2021 audit, the foundation implemented new awards categories, additional regional best chef categories, and made reforms in its voting process. Among the many reforms, an emphasis on recognizing restaurants and individuals whose work aligns with values that include equity, transparency, and community — in addition to the Beard’s long standing commitment to acknowledging culinary excellence.
Tickets for the event are $125 per person, not including fees and taxes. Beverage pairings are available for an additional fee. Guests will be seated at communal tables for each evening’s two seatings, which take place at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Proceeds from the Great Lakes Eat + Drink Week benefits the James Beard Foundation.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Foundation Awards.