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Meet the EYG Semi-Finalists: Justice, Friend, O'Kelley, West, Williams

Now that the the list of Eater Young Guns semi-finalists has been released, it's time to get to know these rising stars. Check this space for regular introductions to each of the 50 semi-finalists and tune in on June 24 to find the list of winners.

2014_EYGroundup2.jpg[Clockwise from upper left: Sarah Justice, Robert "Buck" Friend, Joe West, Peter de Pentheny O'Kelly, and Liz Williams in the center; photos provided by semi-finalists]

Today's featured five span the country in title and talent, from a recently-promoted pastry chef in Tennessee to a career-changer of a GM in San Francisco. In no particular order...

Sara Justice, 25
What she does: Lead bar at Holeman & Finch, Atlanta
Why she stands out: A nod from Eater Young Gun selection committee member and Charleston chef Mike Lata, who said, "she stepped in and their program is even better. To do that, at that age, is amazing."
CV highlights: Started behind the bar four years ago at Leon's Full Service in Atlanta, worked at The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co. in Philadelphia and PDT in New York. Began running the cocktail program at Holeman & Finch in February.
Why she's worthy of a Young Gun nod: "Sara's creativity is wonderfully accentuated by her innovative palate, and the combination manifests in a consistent sense of imagination in her creations. She does, however, retain a strong commitment to the classics and insists that her staff maintain working knowledge of the history and lineage of the craft. In short: Sara is an absolute gem. I am nothing short of thrilled to have her on the team." —Dan Bollinger, beverage director of Resurgens Hospitality (Justice's supervisor)

Robert "Buck" Friend, 27
What he does: Bar manager, Bambudda, Vancouver
Why he stands out: Per Eater Vancouver editor Nikki Bayley, his drinks are detailed and incredibly smart, and no one else in Vancouver is doing anything like his hot-cold cocktails.
CV highlights: Back in his native Australia, Friend began pouring beers at a country club at 14. He put in time at the Gold Coast's Omeros Bros, before moving to Vancouver and working at the Revel Room (what he calls one of the city's first cocktail bars) and at Maenam.
Why he's worthy of a Young Gun nod: "Buck's a charming host; attentive, friendly, and always welcoming. His cocktail lists are playful, innovative and smart. The first drink he made me arrived in a teapot and was named after a local late-night Chinese restaurant that served 'cold tea' (beer in a teapot) after hours - it had a beer-based simple syrup and was infused with Asian ingredients like goji berries and salted plums. I was enchanted. His only rule seems to be: is this fun and delicious? I love that he's utterly unaffected by what is/isn't cool...and brave enough to march to his own drum, rather than following the pack. The kid's a genius." —Eater Vancouver editor Nikki Bayley

Peter de Pentheny O'Kelly, 32 (in the business less than five years)
What he does: General manager, Benu, San Francisco
Why he stands out: Got in the restaurant game after going to Stanford for international relations and working in the tech scene, doing search engine optimization for corporations. Took classes in baking, cooking and hospitality, baked at La Boulange (pre-Starbucks) and then was hired as a host when Benu opened.
CV highlights: Went from host to Maitre d' to GM of Benu in three years.
Why he's worthy of a Young Gun nod: "Peter applied to Benu as a cook when we first opened. He didn't quite have the experience to join the kitchen side, but he wanted to be part of the restaurant and the opening, so we offered him a position as a host. He was so engaged and so self-motivated and really dedicated. He did things for the restaurant we never imagined. His background and his education gave him the tools to be successful in a roundabout, indirect way. It's amazing to think he's been in the industry for less than five years." —Corey Lee, chef and owner, Benu

Joe West, 28
What he does: Executive chef, The Cincinnatian Hotel, Cincinnati
Why he stands out: Name checked by a former Young Gun winner for having "a crazy amount of talent."
CV highlights: Staged at places like Alinea and Adega while in culinary school. Worked at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas (specifically at Alex Restaurant and as a sous chef at Stratta) and various jobs at Kansas City's Bluestem over the years, and left when he was the chef de cuisine.
Why he's worthy of a Young Gun nod: "I am proud to have played a part at the onset of Joe Wests' career. He was one of a handful of great talents that was part of Adega Restaurant and wine bar. While most [on the line] were seasoned cooks and chefs, Joe was still attending culinary school in Denver and held his own. It has been great watching him progress over the last decade. I hope to have the opportunity to work with him again." —Chef Bryan Moscatello

Liz Williams, 25
What she does: Pastry chef, Blackberry Farm, Tennessee
Why she stands out: Eater Young Gun selection committee member and chef Edward Lee pointed to her on the public listing, among a crowded field of up and coming Southern talent.
CV highlights: Pastry cook at the Inn at Little Washington before joining the Blackberry Farm team. Recently promoted from pastry supervisor.
Why she's worthy of a Young Gun nod: "Liz does a great job at Blackberry making some beautiful seasonal desserts and incorporating farm savory herbal notes in dessert. She really brings out the best of farm seasonality when it comes to desserts." —Chef Edward Lee
—Katie Abbondanza
· All 2014 Young Gun Coverage [-EN-]