Tonight the who's who of American cuisine are gathered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for the 2017 James Beard Award Gala, wherein the industry's brightest talent are being honored with the Beard's 2017 Restaurant and Chef Awards. The awards — often called the Oscars of the food world — are regarded as the top honor for chefs, restaurateurs and spirits professionals in America. And as with the Oscars, the evening tends to drag on forever with a questionably funny personality brought aboard to host — this year that honor went to Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, whose comedic bits have included reading tweets by New York Times critic Pete Wells and adorning red tulle to hand out farmers' market produce to the audience.
Tonight chef Hugo Ortega of Hugo's, Caracol, Xochi and Backstreet Cafe fame finally took home the award he's waited a long time to claim. Nominated as a finalist for six years in a row, Ortega was finally announced as the winner in the Best Chef: Southwest category.
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Ortego was up against some tough competition this year, including Houston's Jianyun Ye, a first-time finalist known for his top-notch, mouth-numbing cuisine at Mala Sichuan Bistro, Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine in Austin, Steven McHugh of Cured in San Antonio, Steve Redzikowski of Acorn in Denver and Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín in Santa Fe.
Ortega joins only three chefs who have won in the category: Justin Yu of Oxheart in 2016, Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in 2014 and Robert Del Grande of Cafe Annie in 1992.
In his speech, he thanked the JBFA and the "beautiful people." A true hometown hero, Ortega dedicated the award to the city of Houston. "What can I say?" The chef told the crowd. "America is beautiful and I'm living the dream. Thank you."
The awards broadcast is still live at this time. Find all finalists listed at jamesbeard.org.