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Oyster Oyster’s Rob Rubba Takes Home the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef

The sustainable chef in Shaw was the only local winner this year 

2023 James Beard Restaurant And Chef Awards
Rob Rubba at the 2023 James Beard Awards in Chicago.
Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The James Beard Foundation
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

At a glitzy red-carpet gala last night at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, the James Beard Awards honored the American hospitality industry across multiple categories like best new restaurant, emerging chef, outstanding bar, and regional best chef.

A la best picture-style at the Oscars, the final award of the three-hour seated ceremony was reserved for outstanding chef. The anticipated nationwide accolade went to Oyster Oyster’s Rob Rubba, who was back in Chicago this year for a second shot at a JBA after his tasting pad in Shaw was a 2022 finalist for best new restaurant.

Tons of tomatoes on one plate at Oyster Oyster.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC
Oyster Oyster’s chef Rob Rubba posing for a post-win pic with partner Max Kuller.
Holly Barzyk

Rubba puts vegetables on a pedestal at Oyster Oyster, which makes the 28-seat dining room ideal for diners who don’t eat meat but still want to enjoy an avant-garde menu with a Michelin star for $95 (plus $60 wine pairings). Rubba, who first attracted D.C. critics’ attention as the former chef at Hazel, partnered with Estadio owner Max Kuller on the pandemic-era venture that opened in fall 2020 and continues to source from hyperlocal farms and mills.

Rubba was the only D.C.-area name to receive a James Beard Award this year. Shaw’s Peruvian prix-fixe showpiece Causa, one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants, was in the running for a JBA for best new restaurant. The competitive category with 10 finalists (the rest have five each) went to Kann in Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, Michael Rafidi of Navy Yard’s wood-fired Middle Eastern marvel Albi was the sole area contender up for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. That regional award went to chef Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of Philadelphia’s Thai spot Kalaya.

Rubba kicked off his acceptance speech onstage thanking the James Beard Foundation “for seeing the vision I had and the changes I’ve made in my career to do this.” He also gave love to his business partner and “great friend” Kuller for his “belief in everything we do; your thoughtfulness is contagious.” And to his wife, Deb, who was also in the black-tie audience: “you’re my rock and an amazing mother.” Shifting attention to the teleprompter and their two kids, he noted “I know you’re watching and have school tomorrow.” He also gave a shout to over 10 of his Oyster Oyster teammates, rattling each off by their first name.

“I hope every day I can give the next generation everything I have so that they can progress and succeed,” said Rubba, in closing.

To top off one of the biggest nights in the food world, which was co-hosted by culinary glitterati Eric Adjepong, Esther Choi, Gail Simmons, and Andrew Zimmern, a Moet-fueled afterparty went down inside Chicago’s Beaux-Arts train station.

The Media Awards took place on June 3 — read the full winners list here.

Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards. Eater is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to livestream the awards in 2023. All editorial content, including this post, is produced independently of the James Beard Foundation.