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James Beard Awards move to Chicago next year

Confirming rumors that have swirling for several months, the James Beard Foundation announced Tuesday that its famous New York awards gala, which recognizes chefs and restaurants as well as other areas of the food world, will be held in Chicago next year.

The foundation is based in the Greenwich Village house once owned by the late James Beard, one of America’s earliest cooking celebrities, and has always had strong ties to New York. For the last few years, the main awards event has been at Lincoln Center in May.

Next year, however, the 25th annual awards will be held at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on May 4, 2015. A foundation spokesperson said there has been no decision yet on whether the move will be for more than a year or if the awards gala will move to other cities or return to New York in 2016.

The foundation made the announcement Tuesday morning in Chicago in a press event featuring both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro.

The foundation offices will remain in New York, however, and the other event of the annual awards presentations, the Book, Broadcast and Journalism Awards ceremony, will remain in New York later in May. That event honors cookbook authors, TV and web food coverage, and journalism both in print and online.

The main gala, usually held a few days later, includes the chef and restaurant awards, humanitarian and lifetime achievement recognitions, the Who’s Who announcement, restaurant design awards and the America’s Classic awards, which recognize more humble restaurants in different regions.

Because the two awards events usually bookend the weekend in May, the awards events have spawned a whole roster of chef and restaurant events, including Chef’s Night Out, held for two years at The Plaza Hotel Food Hall, and numerous after parties and unrelated chef events.

The foundation has taken steps in recent years to move the focus of the awards beyond New York to bring more attention to chefs and restaurants in other cities. The annual announcement of the nominees has been held in other cities, including Chicago in 2009 and 2014.

“We believe celebrating our 2015 Awards in Chicago is consistent with our mission to honor excellence all across America,” Ungaro said.

Ungaro told the Chicago Tribune that foundation was approached by Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh, the city’s tourism and conventions salesman-in-chief. Conversations heated up three to four months ago among Choose Chicago, the mayor’s office and the Illinois Restaurant Association. Ungaro said the agreement was made official about two weeks ago.

She wouldn’t elaborate on whether the city offered any financial incentives, only that the city of Chicago made “a compelling offer in terms of sponsorships and marketing.”

Editor’s note: Kathleen Purvis is a member of the awards committee for the James Beard Foundation.

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