NEW YORK - Isaac Becker, chef/co-owner of both 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa in downtown Minneapolis, was named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation on Monday night at a gala ceremony.
Becker is the third Minneapolis chef in as many years to be recognized by the Oscars of the food world. Last year Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma won the accolades, and Tim McKee of La Belle Ville won in 2009.
Becker accepted the award with his beaming wife and co-owner, Nancy St. Pierre, at his side, and with typical Midwestern modesty, gave a brief but heartfelt speech.
After thanking his wife and kids, "the guys at the restaurant" and his mentor, D'Amico & Partners chef Jay Sparks, he looked out at the black-tie audience and said, "That'll wrap it up," after delivering the evening's shortest speech.
Minnesota was also represented at the awards by Sameh Wadi, chef/co-owner of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge (located across the street from 112 Eatery). Wadi was one of 25 top chefs from around the country cooking for the gala's 2,000-plus attendees. The theme of the gala was "the ultimate melting pot."
Back in Minneapolis, where the staff at both restaurants were watching the ceremony online or awaiting news, there was plenty of excitement. Erik Sather, head chef at Bar La Grassa, dropped by on his night off to watch the ceremony unfold in case his boss won.
"We had our first champagne toast here," Sather said an hour after Becker received the award. "We have a full house tonight, and word is getting around."
At 112 Eatery, the celebrating was on hold until later. "We had people watching for us and texting us," said Shay Goetzman, general manager. "Isaac called, too, and said to put the champagne on ice. We'll celebrate later. It's crazy busy here."
When Bar La Grassa opened in 2009, Becker said, "I want to make food that I want to eat." The James Beard Foundation apparently wants him to do that, too.
Staff writer Lee Svitak Dean contributed to this report.