CHICAGO • A change of scenery finally meant a change in fortune for Gerard Craft.
On his sixth time as a nominee at the James Beard Awards, but the first since the annual gala relocated from New York City to Chicago, the chef and owner of Niche on Monday was named “Best Chef: Midwest” at the so-called “Oscars of the food world.”
“Thank your wife. Thank your wife. Thank your wife,” Craft said in his remarks on stage.
He saluted his wife, Suzie, for “10 tough years, ups and downs,” and his two daughters, as well as his team.
Craft is the first St. Louis-based chef to win a James Beard Award. He previously was a nominee for “Best Chef: Midwest” in 2009, 2010 and from 2012 through 2014.
“Awesome,” Craft said of the award, after the ceremony.
“I was so set on losing, this was the calmest I’ve been (before the ceremony). It came as a shock when they called my name.”
He said he and his wife might celebrate the win by visiting his former pastry chef Mathew Rice at his current restaurant, the Girl and the Goat in Chicago.
“I just hope this helps the St. Louis (food scene) spiral up,” Craft said.
In addition to Niche in Clayton, Craft also owns neighboring Pastaria, and Brasserie and Taste in the Central West End. He has plans to open Porano Pasta & Gelato at the Mercantile Exchange downtown in late summer.
The other finalists for “Best Chef: Midwest” were Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, Justin Carlisle of Ardent in Milwaukee, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, Minn.
The awards are voted on by a panel of several hundred food and restaurant writers and previous James Beard Foundation award winners. Monday’s ceremony, held at the Lyric Opera, was hosted by Alton Brown.
Post-Dispatch restaurant critic Ian Froeb sits on the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurants and Chefs Awards Committee.