40 Food and Beverage Professionals on the Rise
Raise a glass to 40 professionals, under the age of 40, who are helping to define new expectations for dining experiences across all spectra of restaurant environments, from Michelin-starred white-tablecloth settings to eclectic independent concepts to dynamic multi-unit brands.
Largely reader-nominated, and always restaurant-proven, the FSR rising stars may already be making a name for themselves in their own towns—and in some instances, in cities far and wide. However, for some, their stellar contributions may be overshadowed by the prestige of the restaurant itself or by other celebrities in their midst. It is our pleasure to include a diverse group of stars, some who have reached an impressive pinnacle and others who are just beginning their rise. Representing all walks of restaurant life, these rising stars include entrepreneurial restaurateurs, chef owners, culinary award winners, executive visionaries, and beverage directors.
We'll lead with Cappie Peete Chapman, barely 29 as this issue comes off the press, and making her mark as director of beverage and education across the Neighborhood Dining Group portfolio, where she delights in "keeping everyone in the restaurants interested and excited about what we do on a daily basis."
The honeymoon is not the least bit over for Cappie Peete Chapman, although this month marks the conclusion of her first year as director of beverage and education for one of the South's preeminent restaurant groups as well as her sixth anniversary at NDG. Her infatuation with beverage began while studying hotel, restaurant, and tourism management at the University of South Carolina when she took a wine and spirits course and fell—surprisingly and completely—in love with vino. After college, she joined NDG where she steadily progressed from working as a server at McCrady's—the group's fine-dining landmark in Charleston—to leading the beverage planning and education program across the group's esteemed portfolio, which includes Husk, in Charleston and Nashville, Tennessee; Minero in Charleston and Atlanta; and Chicago's Steak and Seafood in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell.
At McCrady's, beverage director and sommelier Clint Sloan took her under his wing, a logical start given that she was a Certified Sommelier. "Clint taught me the program and all of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities," Peete Chapman says. When Sloan left the restaurant, she was promoted to wine director—and at 26, Peete Chapman became the youngest Advanced Sommelier in Charleston. From there she stepped up to beverage director, becoming more involved with beer and spirits. At that point, the company was about to open Minero—a more casual dining experience with a focus on Mexican cuisine that was envisioned by Husk's James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock. "We wanted a beverage program that was strong in mezcal and tequila, as well as beer," Peete Chapman explains. "I got to build a fun, casual beverage program to go with the tacos and Mexican street food."
The restaurant's success in Charleston led NDG to open another Minero in Atlanta, and that was when, she says, "I became involved on a company level with building the beverage programs at all of our restaurants, as well as with education and training for all of the employees." No small undertaking, given the company employs some 400 to 500 people, the wine list at McCrady's numbers 500 to 550 labels, the wine list at each Husk location is around 100 labels, and the beer and spirits programs are ever-growing.
Now, in addition to spending time in each restaurant, she conducts monthly educational seminars that are open to everyone in the company. "One day I'll put together a seminar on the differences between the villages of red Burgundy for the servers of McCrady's, the next I'll help the bartenders at Minero understand the flavors of the different agaves used in mezcal production, and the next I'll help the cocktail staff at Husk comprehend the differences between Japanese whiskey and other whiskeys," Peete Chapman says. "There's never a dull moment; that makes my job fun and extremely rewarding."
The hour-long seminars, which cover beer, wine, and spirits, may be more specific to one restaurant than another on any given month—but Peete Chapman envisions making them more comprehensive and expanding the topics to involve back-of-house interests. "I'd like to have a farmer series, charcuterie lectures, and more technical cooking lessons, because we'd like these seminars to involve everyone in the company not just the front of house, where my knowledge is," she explains. "Another goal is to start filming the seminars and posting them online, so when I do a lecture in Atlanta, it can be available to people in Nashville and Charleston as well."
She also hopes to launch field trips, as an added incentive for employees to engage with the seminars, and ultimately her dream is to use the company's event spaces to host educational lectures, seminars, and tastings for the public.
While wine remains her first love, the educational aspect of her job has become a newfound passion. "The management of the beverage programs is always interesting because I am constantly learning something new, and doing this across three states is interesting because there are different beers coming into each market. But my favorite part is the education," she says. "I get great feedback from the staff, and I see that translate into sales."
What's next on her agenda? Studying for the title of Master Sommelier—she put those studies on hold in 2015, because that was also the year she got married, so between a wedding and the added responsibilities at NDG, it simply wasn't the time to pursue that auspicious title. But it's on her list, as is "paying attention to areas of the beverage program in each restaurant that I feel are under-developed. Like at McCrady's," she surmises, "I'd like to bring in offerings in categories that people know less about, like sherry, vermouth, and Madeira, but that go really well with the cuisine. And at Husk, maybe play up the beer program." For each restaurant, she has specific goals that she hopes to develop.
"Being a restaurateur at this time is thrilling—juggling the trends, watching food evolve, understanding craft beers and cocktails, and staying ahead of the game all while becoming a mentor to my employees is challenging, yet rewarding," says Nancy Batista-Caswell. "I love being a part of the hospitality industry as much as playing an integral role in the communities of Newburyport, Boston, and beyond."
A native New Englander and a 2004 graduate of Johnson & Wales, Batista-Caswell started her restaurant group in 2010 and has earned respect for her hospitality vision, impressive restaurants, and commitment to community endeavors. She regularly contributes to local organizations, including The Home of the Little Wanderers, the Massachusetts Farmers Markets, Plum Island conservancy, and the Newburyport Education Foundation. She also serves as a Corporator to Anna Jaques Hospital and a leader in the Cancer Shucks fund-raising initiative. Her restaurant group, which includes Ceia Kitchen + Bar and BRINE, will be expanding beyond Newburyport this year with the addition of a third restaurant, this time in Boston proper.
"I look forward to pushing myself on my third venture, Oak + Rowan, while keeping the juices flowing for my flagships and maintaining our community involvement," she says. "In fact, one of my goals for 2016 is to add three more community projects to my already existing plate of volunteering on boards."
Her high-profile restaurants have earned accolades from local and national media, including USA Today, Wine Spectator, The Boston Globe, and Boston Magazine.
Ken Gordon, chef/owner of Gamekeeper Restaurant in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, has watched and admired the culinary career of Edwin Bloodworth, dating back to the days when Bloodworth, then Gamekeeper's sous chef, helped position the restaurant as a four-diamond AAA destination and one of OpenTable's top 50 restaurants. Chef Bloodworth went on to work with notable chefs and elite restaurants around the country, including Chef John Shields at his renowned Town House restaurant in Chilhowie, Virginia, and chef/owner Shane Ingram at Four Square in Durham, North Carolina.
Before assuming the role of executive sous chef for The Cliffs at Walnut Cove in March 2015, Bloodworth returned to Gamekeeper as executive chef, where Chef Gordon says Bloodworth's dishes "inspired by locally foraged flora, intrigued and dazzled our guests." Now, Chef Bloodworth is serving a wide-ranging audience as The Cliffs at Walnut Cove, a private country club setting, includes an upscale dining room, a polished-casual tavern, a golf shop lunch outlet, and a wide range of catered events. "The diversity of our neighborhood impacts the menu," Bloodworth says. "To some extent, we have a captive audience, but the residents like to feel ownership of what is offered. We have to find ways to be creative, while giving them what they want—sometimes the best way is to revisit the classics."
One re-created classic dish that he has been very happy with is an evolution of a traditional breakfast dish. "I grew up eating cream of wheat for breakfast and have revisited it as a savory appetizer," he says. "The new version is a 'cream of fermented wheat' using wheat berries."
One year into his tenure at Café Boulud, Aaron Bludorn was ready to move on—granted he'd moved up from soup and salad duty to the fish station—but the CIA graduate knew there had to be bigger fish to fry in his future. Fortunately for Chef Bludorn and the restaurant, his mentor, Chef Gavin Kaysen (then executive chef at Café Boulud and now chef/owner of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis), convinced him to stay. Chef Bludorn rose to sous chef and chef de cuisine before taking the helm in 2014 when Chef Kaysen left. This positioned Chef Bludorn in an elite group of former executive chefs that includes Andrew Carmellini, Alex Lee, and of course, Daniel Boulud. Prior to joining Café Boulud in 2009, Chef Bludorn spent time at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle as well as three years at Cyrus Restaurant in Napa Valley.
Co-workers say that Cyrus Caclini makes running one of the busiest kitchens in Houston look easy. His patience and knowledge are invaluable to the staff, while his creativity and tenacity are crucial to helping Kata Robata Sushi + Grill's award-winning chef and sushi master Manabu Horiuchi develop the dishes. At Kata Robata, Chef Caclini has developed some of the most-loved menu items, including Miso Lobster Macaroni and Cheese and a Filipino dessert known as halo halo. Caclini was born in the Philippines and grew up in Houston, becoming familiar with the flavors of the Philippines while cooking dinners for his family. Now, as the sous chef in charge of Kata Robata's hot dishes, he is given great freedom to strengthen the menu's already impressive fare. Along with honing his culinary skills, Caclini credits the position with furthering his problem-solving and business savvy. "Here I have learned so much more than just cooking," he says. "I have been educated on the business side of [restaurants] as well, from food costing to ordering and beyond. These are skills that will serve me for my entire career." With these skills, he hopes to transform his love and talent for cooking into a storied culinary career that will eventually take him from sous chef to restaurateur.
When Rachel DelRocco arrived in Houston, she pestered Camerata's head sommelier, David Keck, until he relented and gave her a job. It probably wasn't that hard of a sell, truthfully. DelRocco's arrival at one of The Best Wine Bars in America, according to TimeOut, sounds like it was an ideal coup for both sides. DelRocco hailed from the Austin hotspot Qui, run by Top Chef winner Paul Qui, where she was the Beverage Director and had developed a reputation for her ability to blend wine and spirits knowledge with unique customer service expertise. DelRocco has clocked countless hours as a bartender, working behind the counter at Fino (now closed), Contigo, and the renowned Midnight Cowboy. She did the same at Qui before finding a mentor in Master Sommelier June Rodil. This past year, DelRocco was nominated for Sommelier and Beverage Director of the Year by CultureMap.
Before Sebastian Dumonet could seriously consider his future, he was already preparing for it. At 6 years old, Dumonet was learning server skills, clearing the dinner table in a Parisian family full of professional chefs. His father is Jean-Louis Dumonet, who would eventually open Trois Jean Bistro in New York City, and his grandfathers and uncles all donned culinary whites. Initially, on some parental advice, that same exposure sent him purposefully down a different path. But studying law and politics disillusioned Dumonet, and soon he was back where it all began. Dumonet packed up a car and headed to Las Vegas. He joined the pre-opening team at the Aria Resort & Casino as general manager of the resort's fast-service venues. The move kick-started a career that would soon land him as one of the city's most promising personalities. After only six months as the assistant general manager at Joël Robuchon restaurant, the legendary chef named Dumonet director of operations at both of his restaurants located in the MGM Grand Resort and Casino—the three-Michelin-starred eponymous concept and the one-Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Dumonet was just 25. Now, he manages all aspects of the operations, even acting as the maître d'. The restaurants picked up three James Beard semifinalist nods this past year, including one for outstanding service.
Chef Daniel Eddy embodied the "dollar and a dream" persona to perfection when he boarded a plane and headed to Paris as a young cook. The native New Yorker didn't have a visa, couldn't speak French, and had zero contacts in The City of Lights. He also couldn't find a job. It took six months before someone suggested he speak with Daniel Rose, a fellow American who owned the acclaimed restaurant Spring. He ended up working for Rose for more than two years in various roles, eventually rising to the sous chef de cuisine post. In 2013, Chef Eddy headed home with the culinary chops to thrive in a city featuring some of the most renowned French chefs in the world. A mutual contact connected Eddy with Branden McRill and Patrick Cappiello, owners of the popular Pearl & Ash, who were readying a new concept. Rebelle opened in April to flooding praise. Zagat named the restaurant one of "The 10 Most Important in New York City" last year, praising Chef Eddy's modern fare that stays true to the inclusive spirit of his training. The most expensive entrée on Rebelle's menu—the duck with pear and watercress—runs only $29.
"My career has been based on patience, dedication, hard work, and perseverance. For me, it has been about the long haul, the big picture. Having a clear vision of what the story is that you want to tell about your career, and understanding that it takes time has helped in the decision-making process," Eddy says.
Chef Joseph Ellia's roots run deep in the historic Cape Cod city of Falmouth, Massachusetts. His nine-member family, along with neighborhood friends, would often come together around his diverse culinary table, which included dishes inspired by Italian, Irish, and Portuguese influences. Ellia even worked in his family's local deli before he was tall enough to see over the counter tops. In many ways, not much has changed as the 30-year-old sous chef serves homemade comfort food to locals and flocks of tourists. Bear in Boots Executive Chef Gates Rickard trusts Chef Ellia to craft the pub's seasonal menus and daily specials. And there's no shortage of tasks at the relatively new restaurant, which opened in 2014. They make everything in-house, from bread to pasta to ice cream, and smoked meats.
"I am the man that I am today because I grew up in the restaurant scene," Ellia says. "From sweeping floors as a 12-year-old boy and taking the trash out at my family's deli and produce stand to working under extremely talented chefs, and learning all that they had to teach me— not just about cooking, but also about life and being a man—I would not be where I am today had I not surrounded myself with the passion of the industry."
Winner of the 2015 Young Chef Competition–Chicago
2015 was a banner year for Chef Garcia, who graduated in December from the State University of New York in Delhi with a bachelor's degree in culinary arts management as he simultaneously rounded out an impressive run as the sous chef at the prestigious Winnisook Club in Big Indian, New York, which opened in 1886. The crowning glory for the aspirational chef, however, was winning the ment'or BKB Foundation Young Chef Competition hosted at BOKA Chicago. Even before he got to Chicago, he was cruising on euphoric adrenaline following a call from Chef Daniel Boulud to tell him that he was selected as a finalist to compete in the Young Chef series. Sixteen finalists are selected, from applicants and nominations throughout the U.S., and regional competitions are held to name the four Young Chef winners. In taking home the first-place award, Chef Garcia received a $10,000 cash prize and the opportunity to stagier at the restaurant of his choice, theoretically anywhere in the world. He was accompanied in the competition by Commis Kathryn Eurich, and together they prepared a Mexican-inspired Wagyu Beef. At press time, it was unclear where Chef Garcia was headed next—though his dream is to spend at least some time working at Minneapolis' Spoon and Stable, under Chef Gavin Kaysen, whom he met during the competition. (Read more about Chef Garcia and the competition in the ment'or column on page 80.)
It seems ages ago that Chef Stephen Gillanders won the title of San Pellegrino's Almost Famous Chef. In October 2004, Gillanders, then a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, took three of the four honors, including the grand prize, to walk away with the prestigious title. Few could have predicted just how quickly his career would take off with the newfound exposure, which included an appearance on the "Today" show. This past October, Gillanders began a term at Lettuce Entertain You's rotating-chef concept Intro in Chicago. Gillanders blazed a unique trail by crafting the restaurant's first ever à la carte menu. He had traveled through Southeast Asia, from China to Japan to Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, and the Philippines, and wanted to share that experience with guests. In fact, his diverse, refined menu left such an impression that he was given a permanent role as the restaurant's executive chef and partner in February. The Los Angeles native brings a wealth of experience to the position, where he will serve as a direct partner with all upcoming visiting chefs, as well as participate in other LEYE projects. That background includes clocking time under legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where he was the sous chef at Prime at Bellagio, then executive sous chef at Jean-Georges Steakhouse at Aria. In 2011, he took an executive chef position with Jean-Georges Management, where he oversaw nine New York City restaurants and led the opening teams for nine other projects.
"For the first time, Intro has provided me the opportunity to showcase myself and has provided me an incredible opportunity to execute my vision with the best team I could ask for, an amazing location, and more support than I would have imagined," he says. "It's been a complete game-changer in my career and has only emboldened my drive and motivation to be one of the best."
Chef Kevin Gillespie may be one of the most popular contestants to ever grace "Top Chef." After all, his red, bushy beard had its own Facebook fan page. That fame turned the Woodfire Grill, where he led the kitchen, into one of the South's hottest spots. But it was something far more personal that carried the 2015 James Beard Best Chef: Southeast finalist to where he is today—the owner and visionary behind two Georgia powerhouses, Gunshow and Revival Decatur. Gillespie, who has always held firmly to his roots, wondered why his parents never visited Woodfire Grill. His mother informed him that his father didn't feel comfortable in the upscale setting, which led Gillespie to a revelation: He signed over his share of the restaurant the next day and embarked on opening Gunshow, an ambitious concept reflective of his blue-collar background. Revival, which opened in July, is even more personal. The cooking pays homage to the down-home plates of his childhood.
"I always come back to the types of meals I ate as a child and the significant role that gathering together for family suppers played in my life as I was growing up," Chef Gillespie says. "The culinary traditions of the South have always influenced my cooking. I want to resurrect the importance of sitting down and truly sharing a meal with loved ones by bringing the graciousness of this experience to Atlanta diners."
Two years in the restaurant industry can sometimes feel like an eternity. It had been nearly that long since Sarah Grueneberg, a "Top Chef" alum, graced the Chicago dining scene from her post at the popular, and always well-received, Spiaggia. Grueneberg rose from line cook to executive chef, and helped the restaurant earn a Michelin star for three consecutive years during her tenure. Then came the hard part. Grueneberg and her legion of loyal fans had to wait. The break has seemed worth it, as Grueneberg's first restaurant, a partnership with longtime colleague Meg Sahs that opened in November 2015, is a display of her creative and deft talents at their finest. Two different types of pasta, Pasta Atipica (American-style pasta), and Pasta Tipica (Italy's pasta), serve as the backbone of food that's cooked "with a traditional heart and a modern hand." Think of pasta drying on racks in the open and dishes like Duck Egg Corzetti. This promises to be another step in Grueneberg's evolution, which began its swift rise when she became the youngest female sous chef at the iconic Brennan's of Houston in 2003. She arrived at Spiaggia in 2005 and hasn't wasted any time making her mark since.
"There's nothing I love more than being in front of the stove, whether that is at Monteverde, my restaurant, or at home," Grueneberg says. "I cook from a sense of place, meaning that I'm inspired by the origin and history of the food I'm creating. ... Behind each dish or ingredient there are many stories and people with a true devotion to craftsmanship."
An inspired leader, a meticulous chef, and a lover of simple and delicious food, Sara Hauman is a chef on the move. In January, she concluded her tenure as the chef at San Francisco's 25-seat sensation Huxley and made plans to join chef/owner Brandon Jew at his highly anticipated Chinatown project, Mister Jiu's. (At press time, the date of the spring opening was yet to be announced.) She led the kitchen at Huxley from day one, when it opened in the fall of 2014, and typically kept only one other person on the line with her during service. It seems the stress of a two-person team only fueled her adrenaline and pushed her to higher levels as the restaurant's Californian cuisine with a Spanish influence garnered both national acclaim and adoration from the local foodie population. Her culinary background pre-Huxley included a year living in Spain, falling in love with the idea of eating as a social experience, a passion that was reflected in the shared plates served at Huxley. Hauman initially began her career cooking in San Diego health spas, eventually moving on to become sous chef at Bar Agricole in San Francisco, where she cooked alongside Chef Jew. She then moved back to Spain to complete a six-month stagier at Asador Etxebarri, a renowned Basque restaurant on San Pelligrino's list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.
It's a long trek from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Seattle, and an even longer road to haul to open a chef-driven restaurant, but Chef Edouardo Jordan has successfully navigated both journeys. His restaurant Salare opened in July and has already garnered the attention of local press and loyal diners, while Zagat rated it No. 2 on its Top 10 list of 2015 openings in Seattle. En route to opening his own place, Chef Jordan clocked time at some renowned restaurants including Per Se, The French Laundry, Mise en Place, and Bar Sajor. One of the most appealing aspects to his strategy, however, was the decision to locate in Ravenna, known as a quiet neighborhood apart from the city bustle. By all accounts, his goal was to create a sense of place in a neighborhood community—but to do so with an elevated menu that would draw families and professionals alike. Doubters need look no further than the eclectic kids' menu, featuring Mac & Cheese with maccherone pasta, ham, béchamel, and three cheeses, or chicken served with einkorn, Swiss chard, and Empire apples.
The Tippler Club at fundamental LA does a good job telling Alicia Kemper's story. The monthly wine subscription comes in three levels: Primed (two bottles per month for $50), Tipsy (four for $100), and Sozzled (six for $150). The selections will likely hail from Old World regions, feature organic and natural winemakers, and surely surprise as much as they impress lucky recipients. As the whimsical names on her wine list suggest, Kemper is a far cry from the buttoned-up gentlemen sommeliers of past renown. But her credentials, which shine with Michelin stars, prove there's plenty of punch to go along with personality. Kemper grew up in Cincinnati and has studied, worked, and thrived in positions from Breckenridge, Colorado, to New York City, Ohio, and California. The true call came when Kemper sampled a glass of Napa Valley Cabernet during a stint at two-Michelin-starred Mélisse in Santa Monica. She then headed back to Ohio to work at Boca under Kevin Hart, training in the lesser-known regions. Next came a trip to three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, California, where she worked a harvest and the floor, and she eventually found her way to Los Angeles in the winter of 2011. Patrons of the trendy, seasonal American bistro have benefited ever since.
Even before he turns 30, Adin Langille has spent half his life in the restaurant industry. When he was merely 14 years old, he obtained his first restaurant job as a dishwasher, and he hasn't stopped climbing the ranks since. Now, as a part of the David Burke Group, Langille has played an integral role in the launch of fabrick—the latest concept from the restaurant group, located on the ground floor of the boutique Archer Hotel New York. Langille's innovative cocktails, wide-ranging wine program, and rustic-American cuisine of "playful yet polished" dishes have contributed to the revitalization of the Garment District while solidifying the restaurant as a neighborhood mainstay. Langille earned a degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University, later traveling to Florida to learn the pillars of French cooking at Pascal's on Ponce in Miami. Since then, he has added a mastery of South American and Caribbean cuisines to his wheelhouse and worked in respected kitchens such as Adour by Alain Ducasse in New York City and Anthony's Pier 9 in New Windsor, New York, most recently working as chef de cuisine at the modern-Indian restaurant Junoon in New York City. At David Burke fabrick, Langille has become known for his versatility and artistic flair.
Life is sweet for Chef "Jessie" Liu, as her role as the Pastry Chef for the Michelin-starred seafood-centric Providence affords her many opportunities to bring Japanese ingredients into the dessert menu, effectively complementing the subtle Asian influences that color the cuisine of executive chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti. Originally from Taiwan, where she studied nutritional science and earned a dietitian license, Chef Liu came to the U.S. in 2011, attended The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, and began her odyssey into the world of pastry at the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. When she came to L.A. in 2013, she worked first at Patina and then joined Providence, where she trained under former pastry chef David Rodriguez. Her trademark is to unite savory and sweet elements, like introducing soy sauce to sorbets or black sesame into bonbons.
Zachary Leonardi put in hours of grunt work in commercial kitchens for more than five years before becoming chef de cuisine at his family operation Ristorante Firenze—a newcomer on the Baltimore dining scene. Leonardi will soon be completing a culinary degree program from Anne Arundel Community College, all while juggling daily responsibilities at Ristorante Firenze, which is open seven days a week. Leonardi comes from a family of restaurateurs, with his great uncle, great grandfather, grandfather, and father all playing a role in various Italian restaurant concepts and pasta shops. Leonardi considers his family's years of built-in experience as a unique source of knowledge and skill he is able to draw upon. He hopes that by creating a guest experience based in quality and consistency, the year-old Ristorante Firenze will continue to thrive. "A restaurant is nothing without happy customers," Leonardi says. "I love cooking, and nothing brings me more satisfaction than knowing someone enjoyed all the care, effort, time, and planning I put into each dish I make." As for the future of his career? "As long as the customers are happy, I'm happy."
Logging 15 years on the clock, Amanda Marcello has already spent half of her life in different roles within the restaurant industry. Before becoming the vice president of F&B for Red Lion Hotel Corporation in November, Marcello provided strategic leadership for more than 30 restaurants in San Francisco while serving as vice president of the nationally recognized hospitality consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co. Since signing on at RLHC, Marcello has set her sights on refocusing the corporation's food and beverage offerings, working to increase sales while reinvigorating the program and garnering more attention for the hotel brand. Marcello is working on carefully vetting and engaging with new food and beverage partners who share her creativity and passion for customer satisfaction. Taking the long view, Marcello hopes her career will showcase the impact an unwavering pursuit of progress can have on elevating restaurant brands.
Logically, perhaps it makes sense that the first employee Grant Achatz hired at The Aviary would now be at its helm. The path for Micah Melton, an Iowa native who turned 30 in January, was never quite that straightforward, however. Before the cocktail lounge, which many consider among the most innovative in the world, was set to open, its ice chef quit. Melton stepped in and spent the next year molding blocks of ice in an isolated 10-foot room in the basement. Melton found his way upstairs, becoming the sous chef, and in November 2014, was tabbed as the successor to Charles Joley—the best bartender in the world according to the Diageo World Class competition. Melton's proven work ethic and obvious heart for The Aviary—he took a steep pay cut to start—gave Achatz and co-owner Nick Kokonas all the confidence they needed.
"At the Aviary we always have taste come first," Melton says. "We want your drink to taste delicious. There are, however, lots of bars making lots of great-tasting cocktails. We try to add another element, layer, or sense to make the experience a little more memorable, and having it be more about the experience than about drinking to get drunk."
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants' decision to take its popular concept Ocean Prime to the Big Apple in October was no small thing. The Columbus, Ohio–based company waited seven years to enter the New York City market, and saw the 11th opening of the seafood and steakhouse concept as a necessary benchmark in national viability. With that in mind, handing Zach Montgomery the reins was an equally calculated decision. The 31-year-old has been with the company since 2005, holding various roles from server to beverage director. He was promoted to general manager at the age of 25, and had already led operations at Ocean Prime locations in Tampa, Atlanta, and Denver. Montgomery is charged with overseeing a staff of 127 at the massive 250-seat property in Midtown.
"The team at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has always taken such good care of me over the past 10 years, and thus I am inspired to take care of my Ocean Prime New York team and the guests we see every day," he says. "We're a restaurant, so of course we serve great food and drink, but if we can make people feel good from the minute they walk in the door to the minute they leave, that's what really matters."
Giving back and moving forward are trademarks of Eschelon Experiences and its charismatic founder "G" Patel. The group concluded 2015 with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at its 1-year-old upscale contemporary steakhouse Faire and marked the start of 2016 with a celebration of the first anniversary of its sixth concept, Basan (located in Durham, and the group's first foray outside its hometown).
Next up, G is slated to open The Haymaker this spring—a departure from its restaurant-centric portfolio, this concept will be a warm and homey cocktail and punch bar. But that's not all that's planned for 2016: Another restaurant concept is expected to debut in the Raleigh-Durham market in late spring or summer.
But opening restaurants and bars isn't G's only passion. Giving back to the community and supporting local non-profits also play a part in his company's culture. From digging in the dirt, selling beverages at the beach music concert series, and engaging in friendly fundraising competitions among the restaurants, the group raised more than $82,000 to benefit the greater Raleigh community in 2015.
"For the Eschelon Experiences team, the act of giving back goes beyond dollars and cents," Patel says. "We want to inspire members of our community to engage with one another to create a chain of positive impact. This year, our team rolled up their sleeves and volunteered more than 340 man-hours to make a difference. The act of coming together, to accomplish something beyond our individual reach, is why we give."
Forget all the stereotypes about greasy hamburger joints: Bareburger defies those norms with a commitment to sustainability and healthier fare that would make even the most eco-friendly, veggie-centric restaurant blush green with envy.
In just six years, Euripides Pelekanos has grown this concept—a celebration of organic and all-natural ingredients free of hormones, pesticides, and unsavory additives—into 30 locations. The eclectic Bareburger menu flaunts organic beef, turkey, and chicken; exotic meats such as elk, bison, boar, and ostrich; and multiple options for vegetarian burgers. Bareburger also serves fresh salads, shakes, and sharable snacks—all in environmentally sustainable restaurants.
Last year, the concept entered Canada with a January opening in Toronto, Ontario, and, in August, opened a unit in Tokyo. It was also named as one of the 2015 Fast50 fastest-growing businesses by Crain's New York.
2016 was off to a rollicking start with the first California location opening in Santa Monica, and the brand's 30th unit—which opened in Plainview, Long Island, in January—was constructed entirely from 11 recycled shipping containers.
Pelekanos' business philosophy follows his culinary philosophy: Bareburger is growing naturally and organically, allowing its guests to inspire the direction of the company. That includes a recognition that relationships with food are changing: Diners want to know what they're putting in their bodies, what their children are consuming, and the impact their food choices have on the environment. Bareburger is giving its guests options to support and sustain these lifestyle concerns. While he's committed to these serious concerns, Pelekanos is also known (and admired) for his sense of humor and the quirky business culture he's fostered, with a spontaneity that includes things like mid-day bowling.
When the upscale farm-to-table restaurant opened in 2013, it changed the culinary landscape of this small town and—thanks largely to Chef Kyle McKnight's passion for locally sourced foods and local engagement—Highland Avenue has become a prestigious dining destination that draws guests from across the South. In addition to building relationships with farmers and food artisans, Chef McKnight is most passionate about feeding the hungry throughout the community. He and the restaurant are avid supporters of the Hickory Soup Kitchen, which he says provides food for people in need. "What we care about is feeding people, whether they can pay or not," he says. The menu at Highland Avenue is all cooked to order and he describes the operation as a "from-scratch kitchen," a model that doesn't produce much in the way of unused food. However, the downstairs ale house and special, catered events create some leftovers that can be shared. Additionally, Chef McKnight invites his friends from throughout the industry to join him in an annual fundraising Chef's Dinner, slated for this month. Chef McKnight says 23 chefs from Atlanta to Virginia are on tap to participate, including James Beard winner Ashley Christensen; David Bancroft from Acre; and Heirloom's Clark Barlowe. By mid-year, Chef McKnight expects to debut an onsite pantry, store, and charcuterie business that will feature all manner of fresh-made artisanal products from breads to pastries to jams.
Six years ago, Mason Revelette was just 23 years old when he was put in charge of the family-owned upscale sports bar. His family had been involved since the brand's inception, back in 1999, but assumed full ownership at the same time that Revelette took the helm. Since then, Jonathan's Grille has expanded from two to five units, earned a spot among CNN's top 101 Sports Bars, and been named to the Inc. 5000 list the past three years. The reason for that success, according to Revelette, is that Jonathan's Grille elevates the food and service to expectations unseen in a typical sports bar. "The quality is what guests would find in a Houston's or other restaurants in the Hillstone group," he says, adding that the prime rib served at Jonathan's Grille is the same caliber as at J. Alexander's. "Everything is made in-house daily, and we spend the time to be sure all the dishes are fresh and the menus are healthier." The company plans to break ground on its sixth location June 1, and two more locations are in the pipeline to open in 2018. All are company-owned, with no plans to franchise, and—at least for the time being—all expansion remains in Tennessee. The company employees around 300, including the corporate chef, who has been with the brand since the first restaurant opened.
Ashley Rokjer grew up in New York state far away from the big city, in a rural setting where her family raised its own chickens and ducks while growing and eating the produce from its garden. Now the sous chef at The Palm Boston, Rokjer has been adjusting to city life for two years while maintaining her informed perspective on the entire life cycle of each product—from planting to plating. In Rokjer's role at the Boston steakhouse, she seeks to prepare each meal in a way that preserves the integrity of the individual ingredients. After all, she says, "A pea pod is not just a pea pod. That pea pod had a journey, and we are fortunate to be a part of it."
Rokjer hopes to use the knowledge and experience she gains now to ultimately open her own sustainable restaurant, one that will be entirely supported by local produce and aquaponic farming.
Kevin Scharpf was working at Daniel Boulud's famed namesake, Daniel, in New York City when he decided to head home to Iowa and marry his high school sweetheart. That experience imprinted the young chef, who at 29 had spent 14 years—roughly half his life—in the industry. It made him realize he was just getting started.
Scharpf worked at Hotel Sofitel's La Fougasse in Minneapolis when he was a culinary student and spent the past six years at Iowa's Diamond Jo Casino as executive sous chef. His current platform is the hip, new American Brazen Open Kitchen | Bar in the progressive city of Dubuque. In addition to leading the kitchen, Scharpf co-owns the space with Kim McDermott. Like the chefs he stood apron-to-apron with at Daniel, Scharpf respects and cares for the food, trying to source local when possible.
"What does it mean to be a craftsman? This is what I preach to my team all the time," he says. "How important it is for us to understand the basics of what got the culinary industry to where it is now. … We make simple food at Brazen but try to do as many old-school techniques as we can to get great results. We don't have a single freezer in Brazen, not even a reach-in or drawer."
In a beautifully quaint 1850s farmhouse on the North Fork in Long Island's wine country, Courtney Schaudel and her father, Chef Tom Schaudel, opened their tapas-style restaurant, The Petulant Wino, showcasing the best wines of Long Island, along with some bottles from around the world. Since opening in June, The Petulant Wino has received a rating of excellent from The New York Times, three stars from Newsday, and the loyalty of the local wine community. At the restaurant, Schaudel and her chef-partner work to create a dynamic menu featuring eclectic American fare crafted with locavores in mind. Initially beginning her career as a waitress, Schaudel has since expanded her repertoire to all aspects of running a restaurant—from catering to customer service. "Ultimately, I would just like to keep producing a great product that people enjoy," she says, adding she hopes to continue learning about all facets of foodservice, eventually channeling her passion for restaurants and good wine to give back to the community.
Chef Alon Shaya could have relaxed. Winner of the 2015 James Beard Best Chef: South award, he had Domenica and its casual spin-off, Pizza Domenica, firmly placed in the upper echelon of New Orleans' culinary landscape. Yet, nostalgia kept tugging at the 37-year-old chef, who was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and raised in Philadelphia. He traveled overseas to explore his admittedly forgotten past, cooking for Israeli soldiers and thinking back to his grandmother's recipes. What resulted was Shaya, a modern Israeli concept that breaks through The Big Easy's Cajun ceiling. To say it's enjoyed a measure of success would be a comical understatement: Shaya, which opened in February, was recently called The Best New Restaurant in America by Esquire magazine.
"I took home economics in high school," Chef Shaya says. "From the age of 13, I was working at butcher shops and bakeries, and washing dishes at a restaurant. By the age of 16 I was cooking in a restaurant. It was something I always knew I wanted to do."
It was time for William Shine to live up to his surname. After six years at Martino's Upstairs and Macaroni's Downstairs, Shine was asked to run the kitchen at Hearsay, craft the menu, and choose a staff. It was the definitive moment for Shine, who finished second in the 2013 Iron Chef Oregon contest. Shine and Hearsay, with American plates that match the speakeasy theme, have thrived. His culinary career began in high school when he joined a catering group called Service by South, and after graduating from The Art Institute of Seattle, he headed to Portland, where he worked at Multnomah Athletic Club. Family ties pulled Shine back to Ashland, and that spirit of nostalgia still plays a role in his cooking. The Spiced Pork Chop with huckleberry jus, a dish that earned him a silver medal in college competition, is still on the menu. "One of my favorite things to tell my staff is, 'Grab a spoon,'" Shine says. "This way we taste and decide if it's ready for our guests."
Chef Eric Silverstein says the first two years of operating his Peached Tortilla food truck nearly killed him. Now, nearly six years later, Silverstein has a thriving catering business, two of the famed food trucks, and a brick-and-mortar restaurant earning accolades in Austin, Texas, and beyond. A former litigator, Silverstein pursued his vision to meld the Asian cuisine of his early childhood spent in Tokyo with the Southern cuisine of his teenage years in Atlanta. What resulted was a brilliant flavor fusion that shines in dishes such as his pad thai tacos and Japajam burger, which is topped with Japanese barbecue sauce and tomato jam. Silverstein laughs at the idea now: "The idea of going from being a lawyer to opening a restaurant in another city—with no restaurant experience? It was not a good idea," he says. And yet, in the process, he and his team have managed to establish a brand with fledgling fame, memorable food, and a quality casual-dining experience.
When Demetri Tsolakis, the owner of Boston's Mediterranean hotspot Committee, discovered Peter Szigeti working as a bartender in Budapest, Hungary, he offered him a job on the spot. Szigeti commanded attention with his natural artistry and theatrical craft cocktail presentations. He's brought those talents to Committee, where the Gin and Tonic is served in a wine glass to enhance the organic liquor's bouquet—an allusion to Szigeti's time working in Spain—then completed with a spritz of lavender on the stem and a skewer of grapes. Szigeti started his bartending career at the age of 17, working as a bar-back in Budapest and going on to gain experience in Russia, Japan, England, and Spain. With his ability to surprise and amuse with innovative cocktails such as the savory Deez Butternutz cocktail on Committee's fall menu, which incorporates whiskey, butternut squash, lemon, cinnamon, and hard apple cider for an unexpectedly refreshing flavor. Szigeti is emerging as a person of note in the industry with the unique gift of pulling off elegant original fusions and never failing to deliver on a request for the bartender's choice.
When Fabian von Hauske and partner Jeremiah Stone opened Contra in 2013, they stared down stereotypes about their ages and lack of stature in New York City's cutthroat culinary scene. Consider the present, however: The chef duo—von Hauske handles the pastry and bread side of things while Stone tackles savory duties—own two concepts considered among the city's most buzzed-about spots. Contra serves a prix fixe menu, while Wildair, which opened in June and was named one of The New York Times Top Restaurants of 2015, is a casual wine bar two doors down that serves à la carte cuisine without boundaries. Imagine fried squid, beef tartare, and Wagyu steak for two. By 24, von Hauske had already worked at Noma and discovered his dessert focus during a stint at Jean Georges. Before that, he lived in Mexico City, where he was in a post-hardcore band, and eventually headed to Manhattan to enroll at The French Culinary Institute. That's where he met Stone, who was working in the events department. Stone spent time working abroad after school, and also helped put together the original menu for famed chef Marcus Samuelsson at Ginny's Supper Club.
Nearly one year ago, Stephen Wecker was hired at Iron Bridge and given carte blanche to create a culture of beer and cocktail appreciation in an establishment he says "was all about the grape." The Columbia, Maryland, restaurant is already known for showcasing small production wineries, and Wecker hoped to reimagine that commitment by shifting beer and spirits away from mass-produced options. Since Wecker began his drive to expand Iron Bridge's bar program, beer sales have increased nearly 200 percent and liquor sales are up by around 50 percent. Equally notable: He's done this without cannibalizing wine sales. While Wecker is clearly effective as a businessman, his drive comes from a desire to build and share something more than profits: "I believe every cocktail has a story to tell about itself and every bartender has a responsibility to tell those stories. Through my bar management, I hope I am able to help people understand those stories that have lasted through the ages and begin to craft new stories for the next generation."
Wecker's next project has him working as part of a creative team with plans to open a new-American butchery and a modern speak-easy and jazz club.
After creating a dining sensation in the Queen City, Patrick Whalen, owner and operator of 5Church and Nan and Byron's, is taking his talents to Charleston and Atlanta. The Charlotte restaurants have achieved destination status and garnered buzz from publications like Eater and Forbes Travel Guide. Now, Whalen is opening 5Church Charleston and 5Church Atlanta. Rewind a few years though, and you could find Whalen doing any number of jobs in the kitchen, which helped inform his leadership style. "I've held basically every position throughout the operation," he says. "This allows me to speak intelligently and honestly about each part of our restaurant. You will never know how to speak to a dishwasher until you've been a dishwasher." He emphasizes the importance of his entire team, crediting his success to effective collaboration with an expert staff. For the future, he says whether that team remains at four stores or if they open 20 more, he will stay focused on building an inspiring environment and providing opportunities for growth. "Regardless of economic successes, the day I stop trying to inspire people is the day I'm finished in this business."
Chef Banks White has cooked on both coasts and even traveled to Thailand and Vietnam for culinary inspiration. But no matter how far he strays, Chef White remains a man of his mottos. His cooking at The Keystone, which can best be described as international with American roots, pays homage to his grandmother's philosophy: "Through food, you can bring a little joy, a little happiness, to those who need it most."
That upbeat nature is a defining characteristic of White, who has clocked time at Michelin-starred Auberge du Soleil in California's Napa Valley, staged at Chez Panisse, and led the kitchen at the Michelin Bib Gourmand–honored FIVE (both in Berkeley), and was the chef de cuisine at Minton's in New York City. "There's a saying in the kitchen, 'Keep your head down and cook,' but something that always sticks with me is what Chef Robert Curry told me when I started at Auberge du Soleil," Chef White says. "'Keep your head down, but don't keep your head down.' Meaning: If you want to succeed in this business, you need to master your current position and do the same in the next one."
Since buying Proof in 2012, Sean Wilson has turned the former lunch spot into a bustling dinner respite, earning three consecutive nominations for James Beard Best Chef: Midwest every year since. The menu focuses on seasonal Mediterranean flavors that switch from the Northern regions in winter (Sardinia, Northern Spain) to Southern regions in summer (Morocco, Israel). After a 17-year career spanning experiences from military foodservice to fine dining, Proof is the first of Wilson's solo ventures. He doesn't have grand aspirations for fame, simply expectations for great foodservice: "I'm not here to be the next big chef on the scene," he says. "My goal was to create something of value, make enough money for my family, and have fun at it." Chef Wilson hopes to cultivate Proof's culinary team so they will be able to take over, freeing him to open another restaurant. The goal: Keep his mind and cooking fresh and innovative, as he experiments with new flavors and creates high-functioning kitchens.
Britney Ziegler got her start as a host at David Burke Townhouse, working her way up in less than five years to become one of the group's most dynamic players. Ziegler juggles marketing, social media, and public relations while acting as the primary public liaison for the group's 14 restaurants. Under her direction, the David Burke Group has fostered long-term partnerships with lifestyle and hospitality brands such as the James Hotel in New York City and Chicago, Foxwoods Resort Casino, HMSHost, Bloomingdale's, and the Archer Hotel. "As we focus on expansion, my priority is to ensure that our spirit for innovation shines through in every new opening and concept introduction," she says. Before joining the team at David Burke, Ziegler cut her teeth as the vice president of Pace University's Hospitality & Tourism Association. She's been working at her new position since 2014 and expects to continue building the momentum for the restaurant group and its partners.