In the January 2012 issue of Restaurant Hospitality, we spotlighted 12 individuals and duos doing remarkable things with food, drinks and more. It was hard to narrow our picks to just a dozen, so here we present nine more talented folks who should be on your radar.
Josh Berner, mixologist, Ripple, Washington, DC
Why we’re watching: His bag of mixology tricks—and his imagination—extend well beyond the mundane. Berner first started toying with the idea of sous vide for infusions when he tried to infuse tequila with ground espelette pepper. After a consultation with the culinary crew, he figured that a vacuum sealer would do the job more efficiently.
After mastering the technique, he used it to create his version of Firewhiskey to coincide with the release of the last Harry Potter debuted. He infused Dom. de Canton with saffron, then layered it with rye whiskey infused with cherries and spices. The drink took on a flame-like appearance, orange on the bottom and red on top.
Berner elevates house-made bitters, sodas and seltzers above the ho-hum as well. For example, he stuffs limes with spices, roasts them in a convection oven and juices them; he also poaches blueberries in moscato and spices, then presses the juice for use in cocktails.
Sarah Koechling, pastry chef, Patina, Los Angeles
Why we’re watching: Koechling’s deft and inventive hand incorporating the seasons’ bounty keeps Patina’s desserts on a par with executive chef Tony Esnault’s sophisticated contemporary French fare.
Kooechling, who earned an English degree before enrolling at Chicago’s French Pastry School, got her start at the Windy City’s Everest restaurant, working under Joel Reno; she followed him to San Francisco as pastry sous chef at Quince.
Among Koechling’s offerings at Patina: Green Apple and Coconut Battera with Crispy Meringue, Warm Roasted Figs with Nougatine, Pine Nut Panna Cotta and Lemon Sorbet, and Guanaja Chocolate with Pear, Cocoa Crumble and Thyme Ice Cream.
Justin Simoneaux, executive chef, Boxing Room, San Francisco
Why we’re watching: His Cajun-Creole-inspired food this can hold its own against some New Orleans institutions. The Absinthe Group put the 26-year-old Simoneaux, a Southern Louisiana native, in charge of its latest venture, Boxing Room, which opened last summer. There, he has created a menu celebrating his origins, but built on seasonal Northern California ingredients.
Simoneaux began cooking in a New Orleans seafood restaurant at 15, signed up at the California Academy and ended up as a sous chef after one year at a now-defunct French restaurant in San Francisco. He was hired by Loretta Keller as a sous chef at Coco500, then chef de cuisine at the Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences, where he drew favorable attention.
San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer said Boxing Room’s version of Gulf flounder a la meuniere “reminds me of what you might get at Galatoire’s in New Orleans, but Boxing Room’s version is much better.”
Johnny Anderes, chef, Telegraph, Chicago
Why we’re watching: Chicagoans have been flocking to his recently opened wine bar for the food, an ever-changing reflection of the microseasons.
“The food here is so good it instantly turns what could easily (and pleasantly) have been just a wine bar into a serious restaurant,” one reviewer wrote.
He honed his cooking chops at bars and grills in northeastern Wisconsin and as sous chef at several more serious spots, including Chicago’s Avec. Former boss Paul Kahan endorsed Anderes in a recent poll, praising him as a “cool kid with great ideas and strong technique,” adding that he “should be an important player in Chicago food for a long time.”
Brian Goodman, chef/partner, The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland
Why we’re watching: He’s trained with some of the best, and his strong commitment to sustainability has drawn the loyalty of locals and attention on a national level.
After graduating from Rutgers University, this Jersey Shore native met Greenhouse founder Jonathon Sawyer while both were working at Charlie Palmer’s Kitchen 22; he took over as executive chef, then went on to do a stint at Union Square Café and team up with Sawyer to open Parea, Iron Chef Michael Symon’s first venture in New York City. Four years ago he followed Sawyer to Cleveland to launch Greenhouse Tavern, which has drawn kudos for its commitment to the whole animal, sustainable, farm-to-table philosophy, including a “best new restaurant” nod from Bon Appetit. “The time has come for Greenhouse Tavern, and Greenhouse Tavern is one of those little places that is defining the times,” one critic observes.
Kevin Diedrich, bar manager, Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen, San Francisco
Why we’re watching: Beer cocktail, anyone? It’s just one of many angles you’ll find in Diedrich’s beverage program at this newly opened Bay Area hot spot. Seasonal, handcrafted cocktails? Check. Beer-food pairings? Check. Cocktails on tap? Check.
By spotlighting beer—in the cocktails, food pairings, and a selection of 18 by the glass and 40-plus by the bottle--Diedrich is swimming against the tide in this city of wine snobs and cocktailers. But he must be doing something right. The San Francisco Chronicle named him one of the five Bay Area Bar Stars. And he’s no doubt picked up some good tricks during high-profile turns behind the bar at the Burritt Room and at Michael Mina’s Clock Bar and Cask in San Francisco; PDT and Clover Club in New York City; and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak and the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC.
Greg Biggers, executive chef, Café des Architectes, Chicago
Why we’re watching: Biggers was hired a year ago to oversee all dining operations at the Sofitel, but he’s arguably best known for building masterpieces at this contemporary French spot in the Windy City. His signature dishes include Seared Hudson Valley foie gras with cider beignets, apple-celery root puree and a quail egg; and Guinea hen with black garlic confit, Boursin polenta and maitake mushrooms.
His is passionate about sourcing the best possible ingredients, and to ensure that he maintains close relationships with a network of prized local and national farmers.
Biggers honed his craft and management style under some top talents. He got his start after Johnson & Wales training at the classic McCrady’s in Charleston; sharpened his skills further under Rick Tramonto at Tru, headed off to Morimoto in Philadelphia; returned to Tramonto’s group as executive chef at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and RT Lounge; and landed at Levy Restaurants’ Fulton’s on the River, where he mastered the art of high-volume, high-quality cooking—just the ticket for someone calling the shots for an entire hotel.
Kelli White and Scott Brenner, sommeliers, Press, St. Helena, CA
Why we’re watching: This husband-and-wife team is raising an already impressive wine program to new heights. Their ambition: To create the largest selection of rare and older vintage wines from Napa Valley. By late November, Press had expanded its list to include 1,200 local wines stretching back to the 1950s. And there is plenty of room to grow: Owner Leslie Rudd, owner of the local Dean and DeLuca and Press, is erected a glass wine cellar that will support more than 10,000 bottles.
Wine clearly is a passion for White and Brenner, who left high-profile posts in New York in 2010 to be closer to the heart of winemaking action. White’s last gig was head sommelier at Veritas, where she managed a legendarily extensive wine list. Brenner worked at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole as wine director, and earned a reputation for his canny wine pairing skills. He ultimately ended up as sommelier at Gordon Ramsey in the London Hotel.
Waylynn Lucas, pastry chef/owner, Fonuts, Los Angeles
Why we’re watching: She has reconceived the ever-popular but long pilloried donut as a healthier indulgence. Opening a coffee and donut shop in a notoriously body- and health-conscious region is a bit of a risk, but Lucas’s creations have been flying off the shelves.
She harnessed her pastry chef skills to develop no-frying-required recipes for cake and yeast donuts, using a mix of steam and convection heat. They’re available in standard varieties, such as glazed, buttermilk and jelly filled, as well as some offbeat combinations such as chorizo cheddar and rosemary-olive oil. The selection also includes options for suitable for gluten-free and vegan diets.
Lucas picked up her skills from firsthand restaurant experience, working her way up from dishwashing at age 13 and discovering a passion for baking and pastry. She launched her own bakery café in Costa Rica, then circled back to Los Angeles, where eventually she headed up the pastry program at José Andres’s Bazaar in Beverly Hills, experimenting with liquid nitrogen and spherification methods to develop elegant, yet playful desserts. Between two separate stints at the Bazaar, she further refined her signature style as executive pastry chef at Patina.Just