Zahav, Ashley Christensen win big at James Beard Awards

CHICAGO — Chef Ashley Christensen's comfort food at Poole's Diner in North Carolina and the modern Israeli cuisine at Zahav in Philadelphia took top honors Monday night at the James Beard Awards, which many consider to be the Oscars of the culinary world.

Zahav's nod for outstanding restaurant comes two years after Zahav co-owner and Chef Michael Solomonov, who is from Israel but was raised in Pittsburgh, took home the outstanding chef award. Zahav's current menu features hummus with a daily chef's selected topping, duck and foie gras kebab and a concord grape sorbet with poached quince and peanut baklava.

This year's outstanding chef is Christensen, who's been nominated in the category before but has never won. Christensen opened Poole's Diner in Raleigh in 2007 and her biography on the restaurant's website describes it as an "evolving chalkboard menu of comfort-food classics, re-imagined through a philosophy of locally grown, seasonal ingredients and French-influenced technique."

Christensen's restaurants also include Beasley's Chicken and Honey, Chuck's, Fox Liquor Bar, and Death and Taxes, all in Raleigh.

The medals were handed out Monday evening at Chicago's Lyric Opera, where the Beard Awards moved in 2015 after being based in New York for more than 20 years. The awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985.

The winner of this year's best new restaurant was Frenchette in New York and the outstanding baker was Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread in Chicago. Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of Chicago's Boka Restaurant Group, which includes Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat, won outstanding restaurateur. Boka Restaurant Group had been nominated in the category three times before Monday's win.

The rising star chef of the year award went to Kwame Onwuachi of Kith and Kin in Washington, D.C.

The James Beard Foundation's lifetime achievement award went to multiple James Beard Award winner Patrick O'Connell, who is a chef, author and owner of The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia.

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