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30 under 30

Adam Eskin, 27, president and c.e.o., The Pump Energy Food, New York

Why we're impressed: Eskin took a promising concept — tasty food for health-conscious consumers — and broadened its appeal, simplified the menu to streamline service and designed a hipper-looking interior, all of which improved The Pump's viability as an expansion concept.

Mentor: Joe Jacobs, President of the Greenwich, CT-based private equity firm Wexford Capital (former boss and now major investor). “I spent every day for three years sitting across the desk from him, doing deals, turning around companies and investing in all types of businesses. It was an amazing experience.”

Awards and praise: “Go ahead, indulge. It's good for you.” — New York Post. “Keeps the flavor, but loses the fat.” — New York One. “….guiltless pleasure…..” — Zagat Survey

What his peers say: “Drives a hard bargain.”

What the future holds: Plans to open a second new unit in New York in about a year; if that's a go, looking at expanding The Pump to Los Angeles, Miami or Washington, DC.

Adrianne Calvo, 25, cookbook author, entrepreneur and owner, Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant, Kendall, FL

Why we're impressed: Rachael Ray, watch your back. This upstart is working on her third book, has a small but successful restaurant outside Miami and is racking up TV appearances in preparation for a secondary career on the small screen.

Cooking style: “It's just focused on flavor,” says Calvo, who draws inspiration from a variety of influences. “I think we humans haven't evolved that far. Taste is still the most important thing.”

Education and training: Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, North Miami.

Books: Maximum Flavor, which was picked up by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major retailers. Her second book, about to go to print, is Chef Adrianne, and it chronicles “how I opened a restaurant at age 22. I did it with loans and with the profits from my first book and the food line that I sold with it.” She's working on a third as well, based on the weekly global flavors tastings she holds in her restaurant.

Ladder climbing: Pure pluck has been a hallmark of Calvo's career. While still a student, she landed a gig personally catering the 2003 World Series for the Florida Marlins. In her final year at J&W, she showed up at the kitchen of the five-diamond Mandarin Oriental in Miami looking for a job. Executive chef Tom Parlo sent her packing, but, impressed by her audacity, later called and offered her an internship. She also talked herself into the kitchen of the French Laundry when a cooking competition brought her to Northern California after graduation. “I saw Thomas Keller while I was eating and went over to him to ask if I could have an internship. He let me do a little stage there for a couple of days. It was the best experience ever.”

10 years from now: “More restaurants, more cookbooks. Maybe I'll already have made my mark.”

Joe Campanale, 24, sommelier/GM/partner, Dell'Anima, New York City

Why we're impressed: A self-admitted wine geek long before he could legally imbibe, by 23, Campanale had earned a Diploma in Wines and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and obtained Certified Wine Educator status from the Society of Wine Educators and Certified Sommelier distinction from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Education and training: New York University, where he participated in a European program that took him to Madrid and Florence. Working on a master's in food studies at NYU.

Ladder climbing: Food and wine editor, Debonair magazine; sommelier, Babbo, New York.

What the future holds: A second, soon-to-open Mediterranean restaurant, with 500 Italian and New York state wines. “It's similar to what we're doing here, Italian and Mediterranean inspirations, with lots of farmers market ingredients and an extensive crudo program. The second floor is going to be a wine cellar overlooking the dining room.”

Sue Zemanick, 27, Gautreau's, New Orleans

Why we're impressed: Zemanick is a seafood talent who honed her skills at New York's Oceana and her French/Creole focus at Commander's Palace in New Orleans and brought them to the tiny but much-lauded Gautreau's.

Signature dish: “Anything with fish and seafood, since that's what I enjoy working with.”

Critical acclaim: “Her food has a lot of confidence and wit,” says Salma Abdlenour, former Food & Wine travel editor.

10 years from now: Hopes to run a fine dining seafood restaurant and a music club that serves small plates. late.”

Matthew Corrin, 27, president, Freshii, The Lettuce Eatery

Why we're impressed: Borrowing from banks and family to open his first Lettuce Eatery, a Toronto health-focused fast-casual concept, Corrin scored a hit and expanded to eight units. He recently opened his first U.S. unit, rebranding it “Freshii” and expanding the menu. He plans for seven more by the end of 2008,

Awards and praise: Lettuce Eatery won “Best Retail Concept” in Canada and Corrin was a finalist for this year's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Goal: 1,000 stores. “I'd like to be the Starbucks of healthy food,” he says.

Tim Baldwin, 28, wine director, The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs

Why we're impressed: An advanced candidate with the Court of Master Sommeliers' International Wine Guild, the young Baldwin oversees the wine program for the acclaimed resort's 18 restaurants, lounges, banquet and meeting facilities. He's responsible for 25,000 bottles.

Education and training: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; The Court of Master Sommeliers' International Wine Guild. He currently is completing the last phase of Level III certification.

Why wine: “What drew me to it was a combination of history and complexity. I found it amazing that these products were being made for thousands of years and had such unique stories. I also found it amazing that the same grape could be cultivated so differently in various places around the world. Every wine has a story and all of them are fascinating.”

What makes a good wine list? “We try to focus on creating a list that will complement the menu while representing a theme. We want to be able to take people on an adventure and tell them a story. The wine list should be written to accomplish that.”

Awards and praise: Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association Foodservice Supervisor of the year 2006; twice selected as judge for the Denver International Wine Competition.

10 years from now: “I still want to be sharing my passion for wine with others and exposing people to great wine and spirits.”

Wyatt Maguire, 27, chef patron, Chez Roux, Lake Conroe, TX

Why we're impressed: Maguire was tapped to supervise both the kitchen and dining room at Chez Roux, the namesake operation of internationally acclaimed Albert Roux and the central operation for the highly anticipated La Torretta Del Lago resort. “Our goal is to set the standard for fine dining in the area,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

Ladder climbing: Commis, Bouchon, Yountville, CA; Caylilly's Bistro, Wakefield, RI; corporate chef, Merrill Lynch, New York. Maguire also trained under Roux as demi chef de partie at the Michelin three-starred Le Gavroche in London.

Awards: Maguire first caught Roux's attention when he placed fourth in the Academie Culinaire de France U.S. tryouts.

Andrew Brochu, 26, executive chef, Pops for Champagne, Chicago

Why we're impressed: Collaborating with Pops' wine director, Craig Cooper, Brochu has the unique challenge of creating a menu to complement the 100-bottle champagne list. Brochu also serves as the trendy club's pastry chef.

Cooking style: Brochu describes it as “progressive American cuisine.” The menu features seafood and other light champagne-friendly dishes. Every dish was created with a specific champagne in mind and servers are trained to guide guests to the right food selections based on their champagne choices.

Signature dish: A favorite of Brochu's is a duck confit with maitake mushrooms, scallions and blueberries.

Chris Kronner, 25, executive chef, Slow Club, San Francisco

Ladder climbing: Brochu ran a personal chef service for a local law firm while attending culinary school; extern, then chef de partie at Alinea under Grant Achatz and pastry chef Alex Stupak; sous chef, Butter, Chicago.

Why we're impressed: Kronner is making his mark with straightforward, honest food at what remains a San Francisco hotspot. Kronner holds winemaker events, walking guests through dishes and pairings like an old pro. He also brings in local farmers to discuss produce selections. Kronner and Slow Club owner Erin Rooney opened a second restaurant this year, Serpentine.

Cooking style: American, heavily influenced by local growers and their produce.

Awards: Youngest chef ever named a San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star Chef (2007).

10 years from now: “In Sonoma, partner in an estate-driven restaurant where I have a hand in raising, growing and winemaking.”

Erick Simmons, 28, executive chef, MK, Chicago

Why we're impressed: Taking over for a successful predecessor, Todd Stein, Simmons had his work cut out for him when, at 26, he arrived at the acclaimed MK. The modest and laid-back native Californian has handled the pressure with aplomb and brought his own vision to the established operation.

Cooking style: Small farm ingredient-focused, classic flavor combinations and simple presentations.

Critical acclaim: “I suppose there's a chance that someday I'll get a bad meal at MK, but I don't expect it to happen soon. The restaurant's going as strong as ever, and…Erick Simmons looks like a major talent.” — Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel.

Damian de Magistris, 29, general manager and co-owner, Dante, Cambridge, MA

Why we're impressed: At 26, with brothers Dante and Filippo, de Magistris opened the inventive, eclectic Dante at the Royal Sonesta Hotel to critical acclaim. The trio will open its second restaurant next spring.

Hospitality is: “The soul of the restaurant. The art of giving. It's taking the guest back into the kitchen if that's what they want, or taking the time to print out some information on a wine they loved.”

Mentors: “My family. I consider my earliest job helping to prepare dinner for 40.”

Ladder climbing: Food runner, Daniel, New York; server, No. 9, New York; maitre' d, Town, New York.

Detours: Worked as a paralegal, English teacher and developer of programs for a visual arts school, “which taught me about marketing, PR and advertising.”

Awards and praise: Best of Boston 2008 (for Dante restaurant), Boston magazine: “I wouldn't be surprised if the Michelin people head straight for Dante should they ever decide to publish a guide to Boston. Original, homegrown talent eager to make a national mark — and up to the challenge — is rare.” — Corby Kummer, Boston magazine.

What the future holds: A rustic Italian restaurant concept, Il Casale, in Boston's Belmont neighborhood. “It's in an historic firehouse on the block where we grew up,” says Damian. “We'll have one of the first full liquor licenses in the neighborhood, and an open kitchen.”

Katherine Cameron, 26, director of marketing, Sizzler USA

Why we're impressed: Just three years out of college, Cameron manages budgets of more than $10 million for the 220-plus-unit Sizzler chain, works with seven agency partners, leads all national marketing programs, oversees consumer research, develops customer loyalty programs and more. She introduced gift cards and helped forge a new web presence for the chain and has worked on improving franchisee relations.

Ladder climbing: Slinging bagels at the Bagel Factory, Commerce, MI, at 15; hostess, BD's Mongolian Barbeque, Ann Arbor; marketing manager, bd's; marketing manager, Sizzler.

What her peers say: “Katie has the restaurant business in her blood. In a challenging economy, she has been able to look outside the traditional marketing tactics and strategies to drive the business.”

Mentor: Mike Branigan, Sizzler's senior v.p. of marketing, who recruited her

10 years from now: “My near-term goal is to really make a difference in our organization by achieving all of our company objectives and playing an important part in the success of Sizzler and our franchisees. If I work hard and continue to grow professionally, I'd like to think I might become a vice president by the time I'm 30.”

Haley Guild, 26, sommelier, Bacar, San Francisco

Why we're impressed: Having received her Sommelier Level I certification at 23 and Level II at 24, Guild oversees a 1,200-bottle wine list that includes small-production and hard-to-find choices. She also creates quarterly Sommelier Suppers and Wine Dinners and leads guests through personalized tastings. Guild knows how to reach adventurous Gen X and Gen Y wine drinkers, and she has broadened Bacar's list to include bottles from Hungary, Slovenia and Uruguay. She also has Bacar's already-impressive Italian collection.

What makes a great wine list? “It's the opportunity to list something different and take the guest out of the chardonnay box. If you can turn someone on to something new, they're going to remember that experience.”

Revital Melech, 27, pastry chef, Abboccato Ristorante, New York

Why we're impressed: Her Israeli background, feminine point of view and belief that “the first bite is taken with the eyes” contribute to Melech's distinctive style.

Cooking style: At Abboccato, true-to-the-ingredient interpretations of Italian classics. Her unique desserts incorporate seasonal ingredients that are balanced with modern, unexpected flavors from her Mediterranean background

Why pastry: Melech told “It's tedious. It's annoying. It's a struggle. It tests my own limits and what I can do. You have to be very precise, because you can't go back once you're done.”

Sideline: Melech also operates a wedding cake business, Revital's Cakes.

Dan Pilkey, 27, sommelier, Addison at The Grand Del Mar, San Diego

Why we're impressed: Attained advanced sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers at the young age of 27, Pilkey also was recently invited to take the exam to become a master sommelier, the court's highest level.

What makes a great wine list? “Balance. It's the key to a successful, profitable and fun wine program. And making it affordable to everyone only increases the opportunity. The key is to combine top brand names and esoterics. And to leave a little buying power and space for seasonal or trendy wine movements.” Addison (named for Addison Mizner, an architect who launched the Florida design renaissance in the 1920s, and whose influences are evoked at The Grand Del Mar) has a 3,000-bottle wine room.

First job in foodservice: While most kids were manning a fryer, at 15 Pilkey's first job was a vintner's assistant, Wente Vineyards, Livermore, CA. “I fell in love with wine there. I began collecting books. I found The History of Wine by Hugh Johnson and became enchanted.”

Ladder climbing: Vintner's assistant, then waitstaff captain, Wente Vineyards; sommelier, Nine-Ten restaurant, La Jolla, CA; sommelier, Tapenade, La Jolla.

What the future holds: “To be a master sommelier by 30 and to teach wine at the college level.”

Sean Brock, 29, executive chef, McCrady's, Charleston, SC

Why we're impressed: Part chef, part farmer and part molecular gastronomist, Brock relays the history of the South through astonishing food.

Cooking style: Native Virginian Brock combines classic Southern cooking — learned in no small part from his grandmother — and modern food science.

Awards and praise: As executive chef at Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, achieved Mobil Four Star status and one of Gourmet magazine's America's Best Restaurants for the Hermitage's Capitol Grille; named Nashville's Best Chef by Nashville Scene.

What the future holds: I'll always use my ability to cook as my little pathway to raising awareness. There are very few people interested in the preservation of specific cultures, seeds and stories. I want to raise awareness of Southern culture. That's my mission — to preach the country ham and bourbon thing. We have so much to be proud of in the South.”

Cary Taylor, 28, executive chef, Chaise Lounge, Chicago

Why we're impressed: In just six years, the once-aspiring sportswriter ascended the Chicago culinary scene at breakneck speed from an internship at Charlie Trotter's, through some of the city's best kitchens, as well as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

Critical acclaim: “Combining a little of his Southern roots with an education in some of Chicago's finest kitchens, chef Cary Taylor brings new culinary life to Bucktown's most breathtaking lounge.” — Modern Luxury magazine

10 years from now: “I hope to be a successful chef and restaurateur and to have a family that I'll get to spend as much time with as possible.”

Lauren Fortgang, 28, pastry chef, Paley's Place, Portland, OR

Why we're impressed: By her early 20s, Fortgang was already having an impact on the national scene at New York's famous Craft and Hearth restaurants. Her pure style of baking and respect for the ingredients dovetail with Vitaly Paley's emphasis on fresh, local organic ingredients.

Baking style: Elegant updates of classic desserts. Seasonal produce takes center stage. “I'm not trying to manipulate flavors. I'm trying to bring out the true flavors of the food and fruit.”

Awards and praise: “One of Portland's best dessert spots” — The Oregonian. Her banana cake with mascarpone frosting appeared on Food & Wine's cover last March.

Nate Appleman, 27, executive chef/co-owner, A16, San Francisco and SPQR, San Francisco

Why we're impressed: A16's executive chef since 2006, he has adopted an old-world Campania style. His expertise in meat procurement and preparation are evident in the sopressata, coppa, wild boar salumi and more.

Critical acclaim: “It's a place you want to return to until you've tried everything on the well-edited menu — a salon for food aficionados.” — San Francisco Chronicle.

What the future holds: His third restaurant, Urbino, will have a central butchering facility. “Eventually, I'd like to have six restaurants.”

Dani Arana, 26, executive chef, Taberna del Alabardero, Washington, DC

Why we're impressed: At a young age, Arana has been given great responsibility: to helm the kitchen of the restaurant deemed by the Spanish government to be “the best Spanish restaurant in the United States.”

Education and training: With two working parents, Arana's earliest skills were honed at home in Huelva, Spain. Later, he attended the Culinary School of Seville.

Cooking style: At the 19-year old Taberna del Alabardero, Arana is staying the course, continuing the restaurant's mission to bring the best of Spain's traditional fare to Washingtonians and visitors. This includes three paella entrees, which he's often asked to cook on local television and at events around Washington, DC. “I don't want to change the cuisine too much,” he says. “Guests, especially our regulars, have grown to love the classical Spanish cuisine that we prepare, so I will keep a similar style, just tweak it a bit.” Arana imports some of Spain's best products and complements them with local produce.

Ladder climbing: sous chef, Cafe de Oriente, Madrid, Spain; sous chef, Taberna de Alabardero.

Dan Meiser, 29, general manager, Firebox, Hartford, CT

Why we're impressed: From his days in culinary school, Meiser's intention was to bring Manhattan-level dining to his home state of Connecticut. Has he succeeded? In the words of Gourmet magazine, “Hartford never had it so good.”

Ladder climbing: Internship, Daniel Boulud's famed Restaurant Daniel, New York (“It was the ultimate opportunity to see how food works at that level.”); Cafe Boulud, under Andrew Carmellini (“It was like playing for the Yankees,” says Meiser, of working for Carmellini, who won a James Beard award while Meiser was there); Max Restaurant Group, Hartford, where Meiser became the youngest-ever general manager in the successful MCO's 20-year history.

Why a GM job: “My heart and soul is in the kitchen, but I knew from the beginning that my goal was to have my own restaurants. I knew I had to learn how to run a business to be in the best position to succeed.”

Hot opportunity: While at Max Restaurant Group, a community redevelopment nonprofit group, the Melville Charitable Trust, asked Meiser and Firebox's now-executive chef, Jason Collin, 33, to run the new restaurant they were bankrolling, Firebox. “I wasn't sure it would work,” recalls Meiser of the off-the-beaten path location in the city's Frog Hollow district, near the state capitol. ”But it's a great neighborhood and business and the reviews have been great.” The best part: Meiser's and Collins's contracts give them the option to buy the restaurant.

Critical acclaim: Zagat-listed in its first year, Firebox also was voted Best New Restaurant in Hartford County by Connecticut magazine; It also received a “very good” rating from The New York Times just months after opening.

What the future holds: To become a Firebox partner. Meiser says his goal was always “to have the kind of restaurant I'm in now, focused on seasonal and local ingredients. We really made it a point to let the ingredients shine for themselves, take what we know to be fantastic comfort food and produce it at the highest level. There was I time I was into extravagant garnishes, dramatic platings. That's not important to me now, and that transfers to the front of the house as well. It's comfortable fine dining.”

Jelena Musa, 24, general manager, Restaurant Avondale, Beaver Creek, CO

Why we're impressed: At 20, Musa was managing the dining room at Larkspur Restaurant in Vail. Now she's running the show at its sister restaurant, the new Avondale. She works the room with the air of a seasoned pro.

Ladder climbing: A native of Bosnia & Herzegovina and raised in Croatia, Musa cut her teeth at the Hotel Petka and Hotel Excalibur. Once in the U.S., she became dining room manager at La Casa del Zorro in San Diego.

Her peers say: She's a warm and caring leader, but she is black and white, and will never sacrifice her standards.

David Ogren, 24, executive chef, Ammos Estiatorio, New York

Why we're impressed: Layered flavors, visual drama and a refined approach to Greek cooking belie the chef's tender age. Ogren also conceptualized and planned the menu for the Hudson Cafe market, opening this month at The Helena in New York City. The restaurant/bar/retail operation specializes in American comfort food.

Cooking style: Elevated Greek with Mediterranean and North African influences. “I like very clean, ingredient-driven cooking. I don't like to alter a delicious beet. Just showcase the ingredient. We focus on sustainability”

10 years from now: “I want to get into the ownership role at some point. I joke about this, but I want a good taco stand. Fine dining is fun, but I'm a casual person.”

Marco Ferraro, 29, executive chef, Wish, Miami

Why we're impressed: Ferraro was chosen after an exhaustive international search to head Wish, the Mobil four-star, AAA four-diamond restaurant at the Todd Oldham-designed The Hotel, one of South Beach's iconic properties.

Education and training: Born in Calabria, Italy, and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Ferraro attended the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.

Mentor: Noel Mantel, Le Mantel, Mougins, France, and Les Muscadin, Cannes. “He transformed me into a chef, and mentored me in how to work things properly.”

Cooking style: Globally inspired contemporary American that's “straightforward, often with an element of surprise,” Ferraro says. “Fresh, seasonal, bright and vibrant, simple cuisine where the product really stands out.”

Signature dishes: Cold soups, including last season's heirloom tomato gazpacho and this season's cold corn soup. “I use good products, and the right techniques to get the true flavor out of them. There's just a hint of the other ingredients.”

Ladder climbing: Le Mantel, Cannes, France; Le Muscandin, Mougins, France; Jean-Georges, New York; Jack's La Jolla, San Diego.

10 years from now: “I would like to see myself overseeing several different restaurants or properties, being involved in all of the aspects of a business, either on my own, or with a company where I can grow.”

Sam Burman, 28, chef de cuisine, Bluprint, Chicago

Why we're impressed: Burman can transition from a wagyu burger with Bloody Mary ketchup to hydrocolloids, agar-agar and other gastronomic tricks at the drop of a hat. The contemporary American menu he developed with executive chef Doran Payne reflects Northern Italian and Mediterranean influences.

Critical acclaim: “Bluprint is a stylish, eye-catching dining room with artistically plated (but down-to-earth) dishes.”

10 years from now: “I'd like to have my own small restaurant here in Chicago.”

Daniel Snukal, 29, chef/owner 3 on Fourth, Santa Monica, CA

Why we're impressed: With no formal culinary training, Snukal quickly made his first restaurant a local foodie destination with sophisticated, carefully edited multicultural menus. He hosts monthly tastings with food guests with themes such as “Chocolate & Wine” and “Salt.”

Learned to cook: “Mainly at home and from family friends who are chefs. I learn well on my own. When I was about 11, I started taking home restaurant menus (from travels around the world with his university professor parents) and tried to re-create them.”

Cooking style: Contemporary European, Asian and American

Cooking and music: “Every player has the same notes to hit, but it's the choices, the combinations, the nuances that distinguish one guitarist from another.”

Signature dish: Sablefish marinated in maple syrup (a nod to his Canadian roots) and sake and served with shiitake mushrooms and bok choy.

Mentor: The famed Masa Takayama (Ginza Sushi-ko, Los Angeles, Masa, New York City). “He and my father have been friends for a long time. I'd hang around the restaurant and watch him cook as long as he would let me. When I was opening my restaurant, he made a fist and told me, ‘Your concept must be like this.’”

Ladder climbing: catering chef: Patina Catering, Jack White Catering and Gai Klass Catering (all Los Angeles).

First job in foodservice: “I worked in a kosher hospital kitchen. I did a little bit of everything.”

What the future holds: “Doing what I do now, but in British Columbia.”

Lisa Eyherabide, 29, chef de cuisine, Gitane, San Francisco

Why we're impressed: Nearly a decade ago, Eyherabide bid adieu to the law books in favor of a kitchen stove. Beginning this month she will take over as chef de cuisine at one of San Francisco's most eagerly awaited new restaurants, the French-themed Gitane.

Ladder climbing: Pantry chef, three Michelin-starred restaurants, France; meat chef, Beau Rivage Palace, Switzerland; Le Charm, Piperade and Café Claud, San Francisco.

First job in foodservice: Apprentice, Hotel de la Cote d'Or, Salieu, France, under acclaimed head chef (and mentor) Bernard Loiseau.

Cooking style: Classic French, heavy emphasis on simple, fresh “cuisine de mere” — food like mom's, with accents from Southern France, Northern Spain and Portugal.

10 years from now: “I dream of being a working and teaching chef.

Michael Solomonov, 29, executive chef/co-owner, Zahav, Philadelphia

Why we're impressed: At Zahav, Solomonov has propelled Israeli cooking to a higher, more modern level and introduced it to a new audience. In 2007, he and Marigold Kitchen owner Steven Cook partnered to open Xochitl, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar.

Ladder climbing: sous chef under Marc Vetri, Vetri, Philadelphia; sous chef under Terrence Feury, Striped Bass, Philadelphia; sous chef under Patrick Feury, Avenue B, Philadelphia; executive chef, Marigold Kitchen, Philadelphia.

Awards and praise: Esquire Top 20 Restaurants, November, 2008; James Beard Rising Star Chef nominee, 2006; Best New Chef, Philadelphia magazine.

What the future holds: “In five years, I'd like to open a boutique hotel in Israel, the first Michelin five-star property in the country.”

Andrew Markert, 26, executive chef, Tallulah and EatBar, Arlington, VA

Why we're impressed: The intellectual and experimental Markert produces truly unique flavor combinations. Everything is made in-house, including house-cured meats and condiments.

Cooking style: Playful, classically inspired American, such as Duck Twice: breast and house-made sausage served with potato puree, marjoram jus and caramel corn for a sweet-salty element.

Signature dish: Basil-crusted lamb loin with blueberry jam, shaved endive and endive polenta croutons.

Mentor: “It's impossible to pick just one. I've had a melting pot of mentors. Everyone I've worked for has contributed something to my career.”

Ladder climbing: Chef de partie under James Beard winner Michel Richard of Citronelle, Washington, DC; chef de cuisine under Anthony Chittum at Vermillion, Alexandria, VA; prep cook, Notti Bianche, Washington, DC; sous-chef, Dish, Washington DC

First job in foodservice: Dishwasher, Hollins University cafeteria, Roanoke, VA

Awards and praise: “The surprise… is how well most of Markert's twists play out on the palate.” — Washington Post

What the future holds: “Having my own huge show kitchen, doing similar things to what I'm doing now, but more elaborately.”

Gerard Craft, 28, chef/owner, Niche, St. Louis

Why we're impressed: With no formal training but plenty of persistence, Craft moved from pool hall dishwasher to executive chef and owner of one of the hottest restaurants in the Midwest. His menu has been critically hailed as “deceptively simple and drop-dead-delicious.” He recently added Veruca, a dessert bar and cafe, next door.

Ladder climbing: Bistro Toujours, Park City, UT, under Bryan Moscatello (“I had only made bar food, but I talked my way into a job as a line cook. I had no idea what I was doing. So they put me in the basement peeling onions, scrubbing walk-ins. Slowly, I learned the fundamentals and worked my way back up.”); Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles, under Mohammed Islam; Metropolitan, Salt Lake City, under Perry Hendrix.

Cooking style: “We believe in whole-animal cooking, so I try to take the lesser-used ingredients and make them into something better.”

Cricital acclaim: “The most consistently exciting and satisfying restaurant in St. Louis, Niche offers a cosmopolitan haute cuisine experience without the big-city pretense.” — Riverfront Times

10 years from now: “I definitely want another restaurant and we (wife and partner Susan) want to work on a book based on my simple concept of cooking.”