Chefs Kahan, Izard and The Aviary win at 2013 James Beard Awards - FOX 32 News Chicago

Chefs Kahan, Izard and The Aviary win at 2013 James Beard Awards

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The prestigious James Beard Foundation Award is called the Academy Awards of the restaurant world and this year the "Oscar" for best chef in America goes to the culinary genius behind Blackbird, Avec, and the Publican.

Paul Kahan has long been admired by fans for his "seasonal American" cuisine and now, as America's top chef, it's going to be tougher than ever to get a dinner reservation at his Near West Side restaurant.

The Blackbird staff brought dessert with a birthday candle for Cayce Mallen Tuesday night. To make her 30th birthday special, Kevin Hoak took her to dinner at Blackbird, now home of America's newly-crowned Outstanding Chef.

"It's a good way to celebrate the big 3-0," Mallen says. "I've always wanted to come to this restaurant since we live close by and we've heard so much about it."

The driving force for 15 years behind the food at Blackbird, star chef Paul Kahan, was actually still in New York, where Monday night the James Beard Foundation celebrated him for setting a new national standard for quality, and serving as an inspiration to other chefs.

Talking to him by telephone, we asked Kahan about a key part of his success, cultivating close relationships with nearby farmers.

"I want to know that they're raising the animals or growing the product with as much care as we put into it when we prepare it," Kahan says. "We don't want to see animals living in squalor. We want to see animals that are properly taken care of. Ultimately, the animals that are raised with more care by farmers that they know the breed, they just taste a lot better."

"Paul Kahan, he's a chef that you work with, not for," says Blackbird General Manager Rian Hill. "It could not have happened to a more humble gentleman."

Nothing humble about his food, though, as a visitor from Sweden described it.

"Fantastic. It was really fabulous," Anders Ullman says of the food.

The last Chicagoan to win as Outstanding Chef was Alinea's Grant Achatz, back in 2008.

Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard took the prize for Best Chef of the Great Lakes. Four of the five nominees in that category this year were Chicagoans.

The cocktail lounge The Aviary, which is also by Achatz, took home the award for Outstanding Bar Program.

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