Daily Herald
Culinary nominees for excellence awards on the menu
By Deb Pankey | Daily Herald Food Editor
Published: 1/9/2008 12:33 AM

"Top Chef" contestant and Arlington Heights product Dale Levitiski is among the nominees for the 2008 Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence.

The awards, named for Le Francais founding chef Jean Banchet, will be handed out Feb. 1 during the Grand Chefs Gala, an annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Levitski, who made it to the final round in Bravo's reality series and is poised to open Town and Country in the Loop later this spring, joins fellow Chicago chefs Paul Kahan of Blackbird, Bruce Sherman of North Pond, Art Smith of Table Fifty-Two and Paul Virant of Vie in Western Springs on the list of Celebrity Chef nominees.

Nominees for Celebrity Pastry Chef include Chicago chefs Malika Ameen of Aigre Doux, Gale Gand of Tru (who also creates pastries for Gale's Coffee Bar and other restaurants at the Westin in Wheeling), Christine McCabe of Park Grill, Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate and Mary McMahon of Courtright's in Willow Springs.

Rising Chef nominees are Kendal Duque of Sepia, Bill Kim of Le Lan, Mark Payne of The Ritz Carlton, Adam Schop of de la Costa and Guiseppe Tentori of Boka, all in Chicago. Rising Pastry Chef nominees are Elizabeth Dahl of Boka, Tim Dahl of Blackbird, Kate Newman of MK, Kim Schwenke of Sepia and Alex Stupak of Alinea.

Bob Bansburg of Fahrenheit in St. Charles leads the list of Best Sommelier nominees that includes Belinda Chang of Osteria di Tramanto in Wheeling and Chicago compatriots Joe Catterson of Alinea, Brian Duncan of Bin Wine Café and Adam Seger of Nacional 27.

Nominees in the Best Neighbor Restaurant, Best Fine Dining and Best Catering Company can be found at www.grandchefsgala.com.

While the awards ceremony is the climax of the evening, the highlight comes before dinner with hors d'oeuvres prepared by several of the nominees and a host of top chefs from throughout the city and suburbs.

Tickets for this event, held at the Fairmont Hotel, 200 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago, cost $400 with $195 of that a tax-deductible donation. New this year is the After Party ticket at $50 ($60 at the door), which allows a sampling of the desserts by restaurants such as Vie, Aigre Doux and Custom House, as well as dancing and drinks.

For tickets, call the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, (312) 236-4491, or order online at www.cff.org.

In other chef news: Alinea chef Grant Achatz, last year's Jean Banchet Celebrity Chef winner, is looking forward to a more healthful 2008.

Achatz, who also snagged the prestigious James Beard Best Chef award in 2007, was diagnosed last spring with mouth cancer and underwent an aggressive regime of chemotherapy and radiation treatment while staying involved with the restaurant.

"It is with a tremendous sense of gratitude and relief that I have successfully completed my course of therapy at the University of Chicago. It was incredibly important to me to remain as engaged as possible at Alinea while receiving treatment, and during that time I only missed 14 services," Achatz said through his publicist. "Where other doctors at prominent institutions saw little hope of a normal life, let alone a cure, (University of Chicago) doctors saw an opportunity to think differently, preserve my tongue and taste, and maintain a long-term high quality of life … They were able to achieve a full remission while ensuring that the use of invasive surgery on my tongue was not needed."

Achatz also continued to work on a cookbook revealing the restaurant's cutting-edge cuisine with Ten Speed Press. You can pre-order a limited- edition signed copy of the "Alinea Book" for $50 at www.alinea-book.com. The book is expected to be released this fall.

On the bookshelf: If you're looking to incorporate more meatless recipes into your menus this year, pick up a copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" (2007 Wiley, $35).

Bittman gives vegetarian food an exhaustive treatment, offering some 2,000 simple recipes and variations, from espresso black bean chili to Korean crisp vegetable pancakes.

As valuable as the recipes is the tremendous background material Bittman includes. For example, the recipe for white rice includes stovetop and microwave directions, as well as 14 quick ways to jazz up plain rice.

Bittman doesn't write only for vegetarians; he writes for people who want to eat vegetarian meals. His inclusive, informative approach makes this cookbook a joy to cook from.

Five-star dining: Chefs from five of the Far West suburbs' top restaurants will converge in the kitchen at the Hotel Baker Monday to create a five-course meal to raise money for the American Red Cross.

Hotel chef Jamie Hatzis has invited chefs from Fahrenheit and Figo (also in St. Charles) and Niche and Wildwood (in Geneva) to prepare the meal, which will be served with five wines. The hotel is at 100 W. Main St., St. Charles.

Cocktails begin at 6 p.m.; dinner is at 7 p.m. Reservations are required and tickets cost $100. (630) 443-8844, ext. 20.

Contact Food editor Deborah Pankey at (847) 427-4524, food@dailyherald.com or c/o Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006.