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14 to watch in 2014

14 to watch in 2014

In a business as sprawling and competitive as foodservice, it's tough to get noticed. Dream up a new concept that takes off right out of the gate? Ignite a food or drink craze? Inspire your colleagues? Create wow experiences? This year's crop of people to watch are all that, and more. • GALLERY: A closer look at the 14 to watch • 8 more to watch in 2014

Martin Riese
G.M. and water sommelier, Ray’s & Stark Bar, L.A.

A certified water sommelier from Germany and author of a book on water, Riese has introduced Americans to the notion of food-water pairings. Result: Water is flying off the shelves at Ray’s & Stark Bar, and other L.A. eateries are following suit. Ray’s & Stark Bar offers 20-some global water choices, all designed to complement executive chef Kris Morningstar’s Mediterranean-inspired seasonal menu; servers suggest water pairings the way they would wines.

Photo: Tuukka Koski

“Water has a significant impact on the way we taste food, just as with wine and spirits,” Riese says. “We are already accustomed to pairing food with wine or beer, but many people don’t know that water is just as important to the entire dining experience.”  

Chef, Aska, NYC

Berselius balances ambitious Nordic culinary traditions, reverence for regional ingredients and a casual style reflecting Aska’s Brooklyn address. Born in Sweden, he spent time in the kitchens of Aquavit, Per Se and Corton before going it alone. Berselius started small, serving dinner three nights a week from a bare-bones kitchen in a borrowed space. Word got around, and the popup attracted a loyal following that convinced him to go bigger with Aska, where he designs minimalist bar snacks and tasting menus that incorporate hyperlocal and foraged elements. “We try to be very honest with what we put on the plate, so we work with others who are also honest and passionate about what they do,” he explains. Each plate at Aska is a natural tableau designed to tell a story about its origins. From its humble beginnings, Aska landed among Bon Appetit’s 10 best restaurants and earned a Michelin star last year.

Nate Anda
Butcher and executive chef, Red Apron Butchery, Washington, DC

Confirmed meathead Anda’s “butcher and executive chef” title is a sign of the times, with meat market-inspired restaurants popping up across the U.S. This veteran chef of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s more conventional concepts (i.e., Tallula and EatBar) immersed himself in the art of smoking and curing meats and started by offering his wares at DC-area farmers’ markets. His first two bricks-and-mortar Red Apron locations opened last year, with a third on the way. Besides sandwiches, the stores sell pates, rillettes, salami, sausage, bacon, pancetta, meatballs and a signature creation, “porkstrami.” Understandably, the Washington Post dubbed the sandwich shop/butchery/smoked meat emporium “a candy store for meat lovers.”

The website for Red Apron Butchery says it all: “Built from the ground up to redefine the American butcher shop, Red Apron incorporates the best of American and European butcher, charcuterie, and salumi traditions while adding a healthy dose of subversive attitude and fearless innovation.”

Jamie Malone, Leigh Omilinsky, more

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Jamie Malone
Chef de cuisine, Sea Change, Minneapolis

No less than NPR inspired Malone to get into the cooking game: The Splendid Table caught her ear in high school and led her to enroll in culinary school, then explore the foods of Europe and Asia. Under Tim McKee’s lead at Sea Change, she has developed a passion for sustainable seafood, and it shows: 95 percent of the restaurant’s seafood choices meet the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council or Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. She loves to introduce guests to the unexpected, showcasing the prized catch: abalone with shaved asparagus and oyster mushrooms, warm sea urchin on brioche toasts with fennel butter, scallops with fried chicken skin and Minnesota crayfish bisque are not exactly standard fare for a Midwestern menu. Her passion and daring have earned her a spot among top new chefs recognized by Food & Wine and Cooking Light.

Leigh Omilinsky
Executive pastry chef, Sofitel Chicago and Café des Architectes

Chicagoans jonesin’ for authentic macarons need look no further than the Sofitel, where Omilinsky likes to push the flavor envelope with varieties such as matcha tea and passionfruit, port wine and foie gras. She also designed an ambitious dessert degustation menu with a sweet-meet-savory theme paired with dessert wines, beer and spirits. During the holidays, she organized a pastry competition honoring the French Buche de Noel; she and her peers compete for the best reinterpretation of this holiday classic.

Omilinsky recently received the ultimate affirmation of her skill when “Picasso of Pastry” Pierre Hermé invited her to do a stage with him in Paris.

Jay Jerrier
Proprietor and social media guru, Il Cane Rosso, Texas

Jerrier discovered a passion for authentic Neapolitan-style pizza during his honeymoon on the Italian Riviera. Leaving the corporate life behind, he studied to become a certified pizzaiolo, hatched Cane Rosso in a backyard homemade pizza oven, moved it to a mobile catering unit in 2008 and opened his first bricks-and-mortar site in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas in 2011. A second Dallas unit opened last year, a third is due to debut this winter in Ft. Worth and Jerrier is eyeing Austin and Houston for expansion. All Il Cane Rosso units are VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana, or true Neopolitan pizza) certified, which requires them to follow strict guidelines. He also hired head chef Dino Santonicola, a master pizzaiolo from Naples with 25 years of making pizzas under his belt.
For those who prefer New York-style crispier crusts, Jerrier also opened Zoli’s, which turns out three versions of the beloved pies: traditional, “grandma” and Sicilian.

Gregory Gourdet, Benjamin Balesteri, more

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Photo: Rick Camargo

Gregory Gourdet
Chef de cuisine, Departure, Portland

Gregory Gourdet’s approach has raised a few eyebrows among Portland’s famously serious foodies. Instead of simply obsessing over how local the local ingredients truly are, he looks for ways to push the flavor boundaries with creations such as chicken adobo with soy vinegar, charred onion, kuri squash and taro, or crisp pork belly with pickled cherry, ginger and pumpkin seeds. Over the last three years, he has transformed the Nines Hotel restaurant from a singles hangout into a glitzy space-age stage for his creative pan-Asian cooking. “Visiting the restaurant is an expensive but giddy-making surprise: it’s as if you went into a dressing room to try on a pair of gaudy Ed Hardy jeans and came out clad in an Armani suite,” observed a Portland Monthly writer.

Executive chef, Poggio Trattoria, Sausalito, CA

Balesteri spent two years at Poggio, left for a short time and returned to the fold as executive chef about a year ago. Since then, he’s helped the restaurant earn a three-star review from the San Francisco Chronicle and teamed up with other Bay Area culinary stars for a series of 10 collaborative dinners celebrating Poggio’s 10th anniversary. His seasonal Northern Italian menu leverages the bounty of Poggio’s onsite organic garden as well as the local seafood. He regularly checks out local farmers’ markets for seasonal inspiration as well. Balesteri, a native of nearby Monterey, traveled and cooked throughout Italy before landing at Star in San Francisco, Lincoln Ristorante in NYC and Poggio.

Mark Steuer
Chef/partner, Carriage House, Chicago

After getting The Bedford off the ground in 2011, Charleston native Steuer decided to pay homage to his roots with his second spot, Carriage House. The traditional portion of the menu includes signature items like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and she crab soup. The reimagined side includes updated staples such as Low Country roast with bacon jam and buttermilk aioli, quail with black pepper dumplings and Low Country boil. Steuer’s cooking style evolved during his rise from line cook to executive chef at Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate. Chicago Tribune critic Phil Vettel, in a three-star review, salivated over Steuer’s “sweet and moist cornbread, served in an iron skillet with a topping of Vidalia onion marmalade and whipped butter infused with smoked foie gras,” calling it “insanely good.” In relatively short order, and with a limited budget to make a media splash, Steuer has found a proven formula for success in his two restaurants.

Kuniko Yagi, Derek Simcik, more

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Photo: Dylan + Jeni

Executive chef, Hinoki & the Bird, L.A.

Yagi’s first career choice was finance, but she quickly realized banking wasn’t her bag. She opted for an abrupt change in scenery, relocating from Tokyo to L.A., hiring on as a server at a noodle house before talking her way into the kitchen at David Myers’ Sona. For the last decade she has worked her way through the ranks, rising to executive chef at Myers’ popular Comme Ca. Most recently she took the reins at another of his concepts, Hinoki & the Bird, a Japanese/California fusion eatery that opened in the Century City area last year. Yagi’s style has met with raves, and Hinoki quickly earned a spot among top new restaurants in Bon Appetit.

See Hinoki & the Bird's signature Lobster Roll >>

Derek Simcik
Executive chef, Atwood Café, Chicago

Inspired by stretches of living in Germany, Tunisia, Japan and beyond, Simcik built a menu of fresh, seasonal American fare with global twists: sweetbreads and waffles, pork cheek with pork bonbon, mustard and apple; “sole” rice gnocchi, sprouts and turmeric-coconut milk. The tattooed chef (more than 10 culinary-themed drawings alone) even designed a five-course dinner and cocktail pairing for his birthday, with all the courses inspired by tattoos. His predilection for esoteric ingredients such as crispy chicken skin, smoked cherries and lemons has drawn the attention of Midwest Living and the Wall Street Journal, and he is a social media junkie, frequently sharing images of his seasonal dishes and cooking tricks on Twitter and Foodspotting.

Mark Liberman and Matt Semmelhack
Mark Liberman, chef/partner and Matt Semmelhack, manager partner, AQ Restaurant & Bar and TBD Restaurant, San Francisco

Liberman, left, and Semmelhack. Semmelhack photo: Jules Semmelhack

Semmelhack is a reformed real estate agent who decided to follow his passions for food and design; Liberman has worked with the likes of Daniel Boulud and Joel Robuchon, and was a top 10 finalist in the Bocuse d’Or USA competition. After a crash course in restaurant management, a stage in Laiola Restaurant’s kitchen and work toward master sommelier certification, Semmelhack founded Mercer Restaurant Group and opened his first restaurant in 2011, AQ, with Liberman heading up the culinary team. AQ showcases California cuisine; not only does the menu change with the seasons, so do the decor and staff uniforms. The pair’s gamble on an unconventional location has paid off: Not only did AQ land on Bon Appetit and Esquire best-new-restaurant lists, its success also provided a boost for a second more casual spot, TBD, which debuted last fall, and a two additional projects set to open this year.

Michael Lay, Ben Lee

(Continued from page 4)

Photo: Brittany Sturrett

Michael Lay
Bar manager, Restaurant 1833, Monterey, CA

The apothecary heritage of the Stokes Adobe House, home of Restaurant 1833, inspired Lay’s innovative cocktails featuring house-made bitters, syrups, elixirs and brews. While the category names—Stress Relievers, Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs and Pain Killers—suggest a medicinal quality, Lay’s pairings of small-batch, artisan and rare spirits with local, seasonal ingredients go down smoothly. He’s hitting a lot of the latest trend notes, from barrel-aged Negronis to smoke- and local produce-infused libations. In the last year, his inventive approach has piqued the curiosity of Esquire, GQ, Wine Enthusiast and other media, and last year he appeared on Zagat’s 30 under 30 in the Bay Area list.

Executive chef, A Voce Madison, New York

Lee spent a decade rotating through a stellar list of top-name spots, starting with Morimoto and LaCroix at the Rittenhouse in Philadelphia, spending an extended time in Italy, then returning to Philadelphia to join Marc Vetri’s crew at Osteria, where he honed his pasta-making skills. He moved to NYC and joined Michael White at Marea, where he focused on high-end coastal Italian cuisine, then at Nicoletta, White’s casual pizza concept. All that experience culminated in his appointment as executive chef at A Voce Madison in October 2013. There, he brings a contemporary approach to ingredient-driven Italian cooking. He has quickly added a selection of shared entrees to the dinner menu, including a 40-ounce porterhouse with Olivato Sugo.

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