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12 to Watch in 2012

12 to Watch in 2012

Who are the next rising stars? Who is poised to break away from the pack? Who has accomplished something really cool? We've found a dozen individuals and duos who fit the bill.

Adam Hodak

beverage director/partner, Bonanno Concept Restaurants, Denver

Why we're watching: In the last year, Hodak transitioned from his busy post as beverage director for Frank Bonanno's five restaurants — Mizuna, Luca d'Italia, Osteria Marco, Bones and Lou's — to an even more demanding role, as a partner with Bonanno in two additional spots, Green Russell and Russell's Smokehouse.

With Green Russell, Hodak and Bonanno have introduced the serious cocktail bar to downtown Denver. No bouncers, no shots, no standing room, no cocktail waitresses. Just skillful bartenders designing drinks to tickle the guests' fancy. “We're going after everyone who wants to go out and have a nice drink,” Hodak explains.

Hodak, who started tending bar while in college, prefers to make nearly everything in-house, including tonics, juices, bitters, sours and more. Green Russell, thanks to his distinctive approach to spirits, was spotlighted in Travel & Leisure as one of America's top cocktail bars.

Russell's Smokehouse, a barbecue spot adjacent to Green Russell, opened in the Fall of 2011. Hodak is having fun creating menu-appropriate drinks, including items like a smoked tomato juice Bloody Mary and several cocktails with smoked ice.

Clayton Chapman

chef/owner, The Grey Plume, Omaha

Why we're watching: He's opened arguably the greenest restaurant in the country — in Omaha.

Debuting just over a year ago, The Grey Plume was designated the first Green Restaurant Association 4-Star Sustainabuild in the country. This is no small commitment to sustainability; indeed, Chapman estimates he spent about eight percent more to build in features like 90-percent recycled content floors, LED lighting, carpeting that incorporates recycled fibers, low-flow plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient water heating and lighting, recycling and menus menus printed with soy ink.

Chapman is the youngest-ever chef de partie under Rick Tramonto and trained under Laurent Gras at Chicago's Tru, followed by posts at V. Mertz and Spencer's for Steaks and Chops in Omaha. As a result, he knows his way around the kitchen. His prairie-inspired, locally sourced menu includes house-made preserves and items like Nebraska bobwhite quail and Dakota Harvest lamb.

Darren McRonald

executive chef, Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen & Wine Bar, St. Helena, CA

Why we're watching: He's introuduced high-profile Mediterranean flavors to Napa Valley, where French food rules.

With experience including Chez Panisse and New York's Le Cirque and Bellavitae, it's no surprise that McRonald attracted Cindy Pawlcyn's attention two years ago. He started by collaborating on menus for a weekly wine-paired global dinner menu, and ended up as executive chef At Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. Most recently, Pawlcyn asked this largely self-taught chef to head up the kitchen at her new place.

Brassica spotlights flavors from Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. McRonald balances an ambitious wine program with his provocatively seasoned choices like crispy porcini mushrooms with fried parsley and lemon; pork with Greek oregano, garlic, roasted sweet peppers and trahana; or crispy star anise and ginger quail with fragrant salt.

Karen and Quinn Hatfield

Owners, Hatfield’s, Los Angeles

Why we're watching: Fresh from a successful relaunch of their bigger, better eponymous LA hot spot, this couple is taking on the next challenge at The Sycamore Kitchen, a hip neighborhood joint set to open early this year.

When it opened on Beverly Boulevard in 2006, Hatfield's was a labor of love for this husband-wife team, and it showed: The New American-style restaurant was named best new restaurant by Los Angeles magazine, and Michelin awarded it a star in 2008. Three years later, Hatfield's relocated to a larger space on Melrose Avenue; the new incarnation earned a place on Bon Appetit's 10 best new restaurants list and a four-star review from Los Angeles magazine.

The Quinns — who collectively have picked up many tricks from their experience at celebrated spots like Spago, Café Boulud, Jean-Georges, Gramercy Tavern and Cortez, envision The Sycamore Kitchen as a relaxed place specializing in seasonal and rustic fare.

Mario Del Pero

Founder and co-owner, Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles

Why we're watching: Molecular gastronomy deconstructs comfort food into artsy plates; Del Pero reverses the process, borrowing entrees from the fine dining niche and building them into better sandwiches.

Part of a third-generation family of butchers, Del Pero works with local and regional farms to source the best quality ingredients. “I wanted the concept to have the feel of that gourmet roadside shop you might visit before you go out wine tasting,” he says.

Mendocino Farms opened its fourth location in West Hollywood recently, and another is set to debut in April 2012.

Del Pero isn't stopping there, though. He's launching a second concept, Blue Cow, in downtown Los Angeles this month. Blue Cow will borrow the whimsical tone and focus on quality, local ingredients from Mendocino Farms, but package it in a more refined setting. He envisions Blue Cow as a sandwich “think tank,” with input from visiting chefs, where he can push the boundaries of creativity.

Aaron Deal

Executive chef, The River and Rail, Roanoke, VA

Why we're watching: At 29, Deal already has an AAA four-diamond rating and a James Beard Award nomination under his belt. His next assignment: cooking Southern food for Southerners.

Deal, a Johnson & Wales grad, took off like a rocket at the critically acclaimed Tristan in Charleston. Within two years he had been promoted to executive chef, and the restaurant earned its diamonds. He left for the big city, taking on the executive chef mantle at Chicago's Custom House Tavern, then spent a stage with chefs John and Karen Urie Shields at Town House in Chilhowie, VA. From there, he landed at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, MA, working alongside Tony Maws.

When the River and Rail investors went looking for a chef, Deal figured it was a good time to return to his roots. He's planning a casual Southern bistro-style menu spotlighting local delicacies. The spot is set to open early this spring.


Tiffany MacIsaac

Executive pastry chef, Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Washington, DC

Why we're watching: She's built a loyal fan base for her mouth-watering breakfast pastries and desserts at Buzz Bakery, and she's also lending her creativity to NRG's upscale restaurants including Tallula, Eatbar, Vermilion, Evening Star Café, Columbia Firehouse, Rustico and Birch & Barley.

At the latter restaurant, where spouse Kyle Bailey is executive chef, her creations include elegant takes on lemon-poppy seed donuts, a chocolate peanut butter tart, fresh-baked pretzel rolls and a cashew-studded version of a Snickers bar.

MacIsaac honed her craft at New York's Institute of Culinary Education, then launched her career at Union Square Café. From there she joined ILO and Tuscan Restaurant, then rose to pastry chef at CRU. Before joining NRG, she was pastry chef at Allen & Delancey. This year, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington named her pastry chef of the year.

Alex Carballo

executive chef, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido, CA

Why we're watching: Thanks to his apparently boundless energy and knack for new ideas, Stone Brewing's revenues have doubled annually in the last three years.

In three years at the restaurant, Carballo has brought huge imagination to a growing role. A huge fan of the slow food movement, he has made Stone Brewing the largest restaurant purchaser of local, organic produce in San Diego County. He's launched a master pairings series, designing beer-friendly menus with sushi, pork, chocolate, breakfast and vegan foods. His quarterly Fresh! dinners combine produce, seafood and fowl that was all harvested, caught or slaughtered the same day; avocado and olive oils pressed that day; salt collected and dried the day before and beer straight out of the fermenting tank.

Carballo continues to take on more projects, launching Stone Catering; Stone Farms, which supplies organic produce to the bistro and a farm stand; a spinoff of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens planned near the airport for 2012; on-site locations at the San Diego airport; and foodservice for the Stone Hotel set to open across from the brewery in 2013.

Anthony DiRienzo

Chef, Route 6, Philadelphia

Why we're watching: DiRienzo brings a wealth of experience and seafood savvy to his new post at Stephen Starr's latest Philadelphia concept, an homage to New England fare.

“We're simply focusing on classic seafood dishes from Maine to Maryland,” he explains of the venture, which includes an extensive raw bar, weekly steamed blue crab nights and fish entrees cooked in a wood-fired oven or on a grill.

DiRienzo's resume includes stints at Chicago's Pump Room and Four Seasons Hotel. He left for the West Coast, where he worked with Melissa Perello at San Francisco's Fifth Floor, then defected to work with Michael Mina at his eponymous New Orleans restaurant, and later as executive sous chef at American Fish, Mina's Las Vegas concept, a high-volume space where fish is prepared four distinctive ways. He signed on with Starr's group, ultimately landing as executive sous chef at Morimoto.

Dale Talde

chef-owner, Talde, Brooklyn

Why we're watching: After working at a series of prominent spots, this Top Chef (season 4) alum was tapped by Stephen Starr's group to develop Asian concepts; recently he opened his own spot in Brooklyn's bustling Park Slope neighborhood.

A Culinary Institute of America grad, Talde started out in Chicago, on the opening teams at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Vong-Chicago and Shawn McClain's Spring. Later, working under Carrie Nahabedian at Naha, he learned the importance of building relationships with local purveyors. He took over as chef de cuisine at Opera, a modern Chinese restaurant, then moved to New York, where he joined Masaharu Morimoto at Starr's Morimoto, and later Buddakan.

Talde's menu combines pan-Asian tastes — think Korean fried chicken and crispy-oyster-bacon pad Thai — in a casual, neighborhood setting.
Why we're watching: Dubbed the “Sausage King of Chicago,” Van Camp has raised the profile of bar food, thanks in part to his fanatical attention to detail and an ambitious charcuterie program at Old Town Social (Chicago) and Quality Social (San Diego). He is about to open a third restaurant.

Jared Van Camp

Executive chef, Old Town Social, Chicago

Why we’re watching: Dubbed the “Sausage King of Chicago,” Van Camp has raised the profile of bar food, thanks in part to his fanatical attention to detail and an ambitious charcuterie program at Old Town Social (Chicago) and Quality Social (San Diego). He is about to open a third restaurant.

A former student of Chicago pros Rick Tramonto and Paul Kahan, Van Camp is a passionate supporter of local farmers and strives to make everything in-house. At his new venture, Nellcote, he's planning an “impertinent take on refined dining” with a Mediterranean-inspired menu spotlighting ingredients strictly from the Midwest. He'll be grinding heritage wheat in a custom-made stone mill, and using a fresh pasta extruder and a wood-burning oven imported from Italy to produce a menu of Neapolitan-style pizzas, pastas and a variety of meat and seafood dishes. Nothing on the menu will exceed $15.

Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger

Co-executive chefs, The Catbird Seat, Nashville

Why we're watching: This duo, with resumes that include stages at world-renowned spots like Noma, the Fat Duck, the French Laundry and Alinea, recently opened a 32-seat chefs' tasting room with the kitchen smack in the middle. Nashvillians are talking.

Counter seating surrounds the Catbird Seat's u-shaped kitchen, where the chefs whip up an ever-evolving seven -course menu of modern, seasonal dishes, interacting with guests and explaining the steps they take and the inspiration behind each course.

Habiger started out as a dishwasher at the age of 15, working his way through the system at the three Michelin-starred Fat Duck in the UK, Craft in New York, Alinea in Chicago and Porter & Frye in Minneapolis. Anderson started experimenting with ingredients and restaurants during his early years at his parent's restaurant. After culinary school, he spent time at the French Laundry, Auriga and Tim McKee's Sea Change in Minneapolis. After teaming up with Habiger to open the Patterson House cocktail bar in Nashville, Anderson did a brief stage at Copenhagen's Noma restaurant, then was lured back to work with Habiger on The Catbird Seat.

But wait — there's more! Nine more people to watch, in fact.
Check them out on our website,