Jun 10, 2024 - News

Lula Cafe scores Chicago's only James Beard Award

Hammel family.

Amalea Tshilds and Jason Hammel with their children at the 2024 James Beard Awards. Photo: Moyo Adelou/Axios

Lula Cafe took home Chicago's sole James Beard Award Monday night, winning for Outstanding Hospitality.

Why it matters: The awards are considered the most prestigious culinary honor in the nation and can boost business at restaurants and tourism to the cities they operate in.

  • Chicago chefs Anna Posey of Elske, Sujan Sarkar from Indienne and Jenner Tomaska from Esmé were also nominated.

What they're saying: Lula Cafe owner and executive chef Jason Hammel used the occasion to speak on a subject close to his heart — providing livable wages and benefits for restaurant workers.

  • "I hope that everyone here and in the world, and especially those with power, will enact policies that protect and ensure that these conditions can be met and maintained for everyone. We will certainly hold ourselves to that goal," he said during his acceptance speech.

The scoop: The Logan Square restaurant is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and to celebrate Hammel tells Axios, "We're doing a whole week with 25 of the best names coming to Lula to cook at the end of September."

  • "And we're also opening up a little studio space in Logan Square to do pop ups, creative work, music, talks, all sorts of little things that we're unable to do at the restaurant."
Kasama co-owners in matching khaki suits and cowboy hats.
Kasama co-owners and chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwon served as presenters at Monday's awards. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

The intrigue: Mayor Brandon Johnson slipped in through a side door instead of walking the red carpet as his predecessors did.

One cool thing: Hajime Sato from Sozai Restaurant in suburban Detroit beat Chicago chefs in the Great Lakes category.

  • He tells Axios he wants to use the accolade to promote his passion of using only sustainable seafood and wants to unite chefs around the Great Lakes to do the same.

Biggest winners: Michael Rafidi from Albi in Washington, D.C. took home the night's biggest award, Outstanding Chef.

The bottom line: Chicago pulled off another successful year showcasing the nation's top culinary talent all while hosting a half marathon, Blues Fest, Puerto Rican Parade and an international soccer match with Lionel Messi.

Go deeper: Here's a full list of award winners.

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