Cleveland’s James Beard Winners and Top Chefs

By Rita Knight-Gray, Host Committee member

During the earlier years of the James Beard Best Chefs awards, major American cities were the primary award winners, with Chicago dominating the Great Lakes Region. In the early 2000s things started to change, and other cities in the Great Lakes Region were recognized as winners of the award.

In 2004 Rocco Whalen was nominated as the James Beard Rising Star for his eatery Fahrenheit, located in the Tremont area.

Michael Symon's Lola, Cleveland, Ohio (photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Michael Symon’s Lola, Cleveland, Ohio (photo courtesy of Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Michael Symon became an Iron Chef in 2007, a James Beard nominee in 2008, and in 2009 a Great Lakes Region winner. Symon’s eateries are Lola (Gateway District), Lolita (Tremont), and the B Spot with several locations in the Greater Cleveland area, Columbus, and Detroit. Soon he will open Mabel’s BBQ on East 4th Street in the Gateway District.

In 2013, Jonathon Sawyer was a James Beard Best Chef nominee in the Great Lakes Region. He is a winner in 2015. Sawyer has worked under Michael Symon and Charlie Palmer and has three restaurants: Greenhouse Tavern (Gateway District), Noodlecat (Playhouse Square), and Trentina (University Circle).

Dante Boccuzzi is another top Cleveland chef that worked under Charlie Palmer and as Robert De Niro’s personal chef. Boccuzzi’s eateries are Tremont’s Dante and Ginko.

Doug Katz has hosted multiple James Beard Foundation Dinners. His eateries are: Fire (Shaker Square) and Katz Club Diner (Cleveland Heights). He is also chef and partner of Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Two time James Beard award nominee Eric Williams has restaurants Momocho and Jack Flaps, both in Ohio City, and El Carnicero (Lakewood).

Jonathan Bennett has also hosted James Beard Foundation dinners, and he is now sharing chef duties at Moxie (Beachwood) and Red the Steakhouse (Gateway District).

Paul Minnillo is a long-time friend of Michael Symon. In fact, he claims to have taught the Iron Chef how to cook! Minnillo’s eatery is Flour in Moreland Hills.

Another James Beard nominee, Zack Bruell has turned the historic Playhouse Square jewelry store Cowell & Hubbard into a culinary delight.  Bruell also has the Dynomite Burger Fast Casual Gourmet Burger Stand in both Playhouse Square and University Circle and Ristorante Chinato (Gateway District).

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