Food & dining

Karen Akunowicz wins Best Chef: Northeast at James Beard awards gala

Karen Akunowicz of Myers + Chang won Best Chef: Northeast at the annual James Beard awards gala.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Karen Akunowicz of Myers + Chang won Best Chef: Northeast at the annual James Beard awards gala.

On Monday night, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the annual James Beard awards gala took place. The awards celebrate excellence in the culinary world, recognizing restaurants, chefs, and other industry professionals.

This year, some of the area’s top chefs were up for awards. Karen Akunowicz of Myers + Chang won Best Chef: Northeast, beating out fellow nominees Tiffani Faison of Tiger Mama, Tony Messina of Uni, Cassie Piuma of Sarma, and Benjamin Sukle of Oberlin in Providence. (There seemed to be no enmity among competitors. Akunowicz and Faison were spotted having lunch together with friends and family on Sunday at Italian restaurant Monteverde.) “Twenty years ago I was a waitress at a diner in New Jersey, so the fact that I am even invited here is such a big deal to me,” Akunowicz said in her acceptance speech. “I am also so honored to be standing here and to be in this room when almost half of our nominees this year are women. Nothing could make me happier.”

Two Boston-area names were also up for national awards. Ken Oringer (Uni, Little Donkey, Toro, and others) was nominated in the Outstanding Restaurateur category; Caroline Styne of the Lucques Group in Los Angeles was this year’s winner. Maura Kilpatrick of Sofra in Cambridge and Alison Pray of Standard Baking Co. in Portland, Maine, were both nominees for Outstanding Baker, an award won by Belinda Leong and Michel Suas of B. Patisserie in San Francisco. (Kilpatrick and Pray are perennial nominees, so perhaps we’ll see them again next year.)

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Galleria Umberto, the beloved North End stop for Sicilian slices and more, received the America’s Classics award. Co-owner Ralph Deuterio accepted the award after a video that showcased Umberto’s glorious pizza and long lines.

The night also saw a big honor for Jody Adams, chef-owner of Trade, Porto, and Saloniki, who became a Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America inductee. Vermont Creamery cofounder Allison Hooper also received the award. And Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, won a leadership award for his work fighting food insecurity through Daily Table, the grocery store he founded in Dorchester and Roxbury.

Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.