The Monday night ceremony was full of thrilling first-time wins. 

Gowri Chandra
May 08, 2018

If you missed the emotional, historic, and star-studded James Beard Awards ceremony on Monday night, you can still watch the full thing online—it livestreamed on Twitter to two million viewers and counting. But if you don't have a few hours to spare, here’s what you need to know about the year's biggest night in food. (And you can check out the full list of winners here.) 

Seattle Chef Edouardo Jordan Headlines with His Historic First Wins, Both in the Same Night

If there’s one person everyone seems to be talking about after last night, it’s Edouardo Jordan. While he's no stranger to critical acclaim—he was a Food and Wine Best New Chef in 2016, on these very pages, and his restaurant JuneBaby was a 2018 Restaurant of the Year—his name probably wasn’t as well known as some of his fellow nominees. Until now. A three-time nominee (and one time semifinalist) for Best Chef: Northwest, he clinched the title his third time around with his Seattle restaurant Salare.

And he picked up another award to boot: This one for Best New Restaurant, for JuneBaby, also in Seattle. While Salare translates New American flavors through the winds of the Caribbean, Ethiopia, and, well, many places—picking up influences from Jordan’s time at Per Se, or salumi-making in Italy—JuneBaby is more decidedly Southern, with a clear contemporary lens. Jordan, not expecting to win, scribbled a potential victory speech in the hotel hallway, he confessed. His win is put into starker perspective by the fact that, as reported by Mic, “across nearly three decades, only five black chefs have ever been nominated or won a best chef or outstanding chef award.”

Jordan is the first African-American chef to ever win the award for Best New Restaurant in the ceremony's history. 

José Andrés Got Teary-Eyed Accepting The 2018 Humanitarian of the Year Award

Andrés accepted the award to a standing ovation and went on to thank his wife, his voice cracking a bit. “Last time I was honored to be here a few years ago, I forgot probably to thank the most important person in my life. My sunrise, my sunset, my horizon. My wife, Patricia,” he said. He also thanked his employees. “I want to thank my team because yes, yes, the food critics are right. They don't find me in the restaurant, so what? I have the best people cooking and serving every one of those meals.”

While Andrés has gotten his share of scathing restaurant reviews in the past, it seems critics have been more reluctant to pick bones with the Michelin-starred chef as of late. After all, it’s hard to fault a man who’s served almost four million meals in Puerto Rico, post-Hurricane Maria—and that’s not counting the meals he cooked and delivered amid Southern California’s wildfires or Hurricane Harvey’s flooding in Texas. It’s for all these reasons, then, that Andrés won the award this year—it was announced in February, but he actually accepted it on stage tonight. He also brought celebrated Puerto Rican chef José Enrique on stage and gave him due credit: He was instrumental in coordinating disaster relief efforts on the island.

Hillary Clinton was there, too. Sort of. 

Nope, she wasn’t actually on stage at the awards in Chicago, but she did appear in a montage video that was made to honor Andrés. “His love of his fellow men and women, his love of eating which he shares with all of us—he is bigger than life, a force of nature, and a real gift to this country and the world,” Clinton said. The plug wasn’t out of the blue; Andrés and Clinton know each other well enough for him to have endorsed her second presidential bid, including introducing her at this Tampa, Florida rally in 2016.

Dominique Crenn Finally Won Her James Beard Award

After five James Beard nominations, the two Michelin-starred chef finally won her first title, that of Best Chef: West. It was for her San Francisco flagship, Atelier Crenn—you can peer into it in season 2 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, if you haven’t already. Introduced by Zooey Deschanel—who plugged her own food-focused initiative The Farm Project—Crenn was the only S.F.-based nominee on the list, beating out four other chefs from Los Angeles. (The win was one of several for San Francisco, which did well last night. Other winners from the city included B. Patisserie and the beloved Zuni Cafe.)

Crenn came on stage and thanked her wife, whom she’s very rarely mentioned in the media. And then, in typical fashion, she gave an atypical acceptance speech.

“I want you all to rise, and repeat after me,” she told the audience. “I rise. For equality. For humanity. And mother earth.” Given her prominence as a female chef, Crenn has been asked to comment a lot about #MeToo. This seemed to be her way of addressing that in a “nice” way tonight—her words—while speaking to the theme of this year’s awards show: “I rise.”

The Night Belonged to Female, Black, and POC Chefs

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Dominique Crenn was the first female chef in eleven years to win Best Chef: West, while Edouardo Jordan is the first African-American chef to win Best New Restaurant. Along with wins like Gabrielle Hamilton’s for Outstanding Chef and Dolester Miles for Outstanding Pastry Chef, 11 of 15 culinary awards this year went to women, people of color, or both, according to the New York Times. In the wake of #MeToo and a greater focus on inequities in the food world, the James Beard Foundation has been called upon to respond to its historical favor of white male chefs. Because the James Beard Foundation’s 600-ish voting body includes previous winners—usually white male chefs—who tend to vote for their friends—also white male chefs—this system has reinforced the boy’s club vibe, some have accused. While those criticisms have been founded, we’re happy to report that was much less the case last night.

There Were So Many Big Firsts

Top Chef fan favorite and Food and Wine Best New Chef 2017 Nina Compton won her first James Beard, for Best Chef: South. Her New Orleans restaurant Compère Lapin epitomizes the flavors of its city while translating its Caribbean influences, which Compton translates from her childhood growing up in St. Lucia.

Winning for Best Chef: Southwest, Alex Seidel’s Denver-based Mercantile Dining and Provision marries the agricultural heritage of Colorado with the now resilient chef-driven movement of Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins. His own Fruition Farms sheds new light on what the future of artisanal Colorado can look like.

And Birmingham's Highlands Bar and Grill finally won the award for Outstanding Restaurant—after nine consecutive nominations. 

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