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Meet Eater's Young Guns Semifinalists from the West

Where they started, what inspires them, and their predictions for the industry

Eater is getting ready to announce this year's Young Guns winners next week, and there's a great crop of semifinalists in the running. These folks are champions of their industry, working every day to be better than they were the last. Here's a taste of how they operate, their thoughts on the restaurant business, and some predictions for the future. Rounding out this year's semifinalists are the chefs, wine directors, butchers, and instructors from the West.

Andrea Borgen, general manager/owner, Barcito, Los Angeles, CA

Andrea Borgen

This pioneer is making big changes in the realm of restaurant pay structures. She operates Barcito under a no-tipping system and has a wealth of ideas about how to reshape the restaurant industry — and that doesn't include automated restaurant service.

Best career advice she's received: While studying abroad, someone once told me, "never let school get in the way of your education." To this day, that's really rung true. Books are great, but I've always learned so much more by rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. Persistent curiosity, and a commitment to surrounding yourself with people who challenge you to be better, have always proved most rewarding.
Post-shift meal: A cold empanada and blanco tequila (preferably Chinaco, our well), on the rocks.
Her thoughts on the industry: It's such an exciting time to be in hospitality - there are just so many opportunities for continued growth, and too many resources to name here. I'm particularly excited about the emergence of Journee in NYC, and have been keeping close tabs as they've progressed over the last several months. Would love to see something like that grow legs here in Los Angeles.
Her biggest career influence: Danny Meyer. Hands down. Restaurants are a weird industry - fraught with overworked/underpaid employees, minimal benefits, and a steadily increasing inequality gap between FOH and BOH. And no one has worked as tirelessly as he to improve the employee experience, and cultivate the culture USHG provides at each individual location. His philosophies continue to influence the way I do business, and transform the hospitality industry for the better.

Christine Rivera, chef de cuisine, Galaxy Taco, La Jolla, CA

Christine Rivera

When she was growing up, Rivera wanted to be a school teacher, and she believes she has accomplished that in a way, teaching through food. Every day at Galaxy Taco, she grinds and processes the restaurant's masa in-house, with the hopes that one day people understand "quality tortilla/masa making like they understand quality bread making."

Her biggest influence: My parents. Without their support I wouldn't be doing what I love. They always taught me to do what makes you happy. And cooking makes me happy.
Sources of inspiration: Meals I grew up eating at home, I want people to eat my food and feel like they're home.
Challenges she faces: The restaurant industry is full of challenges and that's why I love it. The way you overcome those challenges is what separates you from the rest.
Favorite food city: Tijuana, it's our neighbor. My family and I would go every weekend to visit family and you can get anything from street tacos, tortas, tj hotdogs and churros at every corner.
Post-work drink: Mezcal, of course!

Laura Meyer, head chef/pizzaiola + Administrator and Teaching Assistant at the International School of Pizza, Tony's Pizza Napoletana and The International School of Pizza, San Francisco, CA

Laura Meyer is fluent in Italian and pizza. She's won international competitions for her pizza-making skills and in addition to cooking the full menu (desserts included) at Tony's Pizza, she also teaches her craft to eager students.

Favorite industry trend: I love the blending of ancient grains into the pizza industry. Taking it back to it's roots but modernizing it.
Best career advice she's received: Keep learning and having fun...Once you're not having fun or learning anymore it may be time for the next adventure.
On a career-defining moment: The time I won first place in a cooking competition in Parma, Italy. I proved to myself that I'm good at what I do but I also have a lot to learn
On her biggest influences: Tony Gemignani and my dad
Sources of inspiration: Other people I come into contact with as well as eating out

Maya Lovelace, chef/owner, Mae, Portland, OR

Mae's Maya Lovelace

Maya Lovelace's restaurant is named for her grandmother, Mae, whom she considers a major influence on her career. "She's the reason for everything I'm doing now, and I'm so glad that my mentors gave me the skills to do her justice."

On her first dream job: I wanted to sing on broadway! Seriously! I was torn between professional singer, veterinarian, or archaeologist. I went to school and shot for a triple major in psychology, philosophy and french. I dropped out because, after spending two years gazing up at my dorm room ceiling decorated with dim sum flashcards and making complicated meals in my illegal electric wok, I realized I needed to spend my life cooking.
A favorite industry trend: Growing focus on micro-regional cooking, be it specific cities in India, Southern Appalachian american cooking, micro-regional Chinese cooking... all of it. I want to know the specifics, and I love tasting food that has a true sense of place.
Her go-to breakfast: Vietnamese noodle soup. Full stop. With a cafe sua da on the side. Pho, bun rieu, bun moc, bun mang vit, mi quang, mi bo kho, bun bo hue... the list is never ending. It's become such an obsession that I'm actually part of a soup crew in town. We're all industry, and we all make time to get soup together every friday. We're all total freaks for soup. We have our own hashtag and we're taking over.
On her sources of inspiration: I feel like most of my inspiration comes from the idea of food as something that is made for you by someone who loves you. Food, in human history, is about family, about people scraping by by whatever means possible and somehow managing to put something on the table. It's such a powerful thing, and we're all so lucky to be able to make a living cooking and showing our love to people.  I've also been lucky to work for truly amazing chefs, who continue to inspire me every day to work harder and smarter. These mentors trained me to do justice to the inspiring produce I'm fortunate to work with every single day. People and product is what it all comes down to for me.

Anh Luu, executive chef, Tapalaya, Portland, OR

This Chopped alum thrives on stress and pressure while working in her favorite food city. She appreciates the diversity of food options available in Portland, and finds herself using it as a barometer when she travels to other cities.

Biggest influence: My mother. I like to cook the things she cooked for family dinner when I was a little girl. I like recreating the taste of something she cooked with different ingredients. There is always a little bit of my family and upbringing in every dish I create.
On her dream job as a kid: I've known I wanted to be a chef ever since I was 15. Before that I wanted to be a Muppet on sesame street!
On her sources of inspiration: I like to flip through really old and random cajun/creole cook books and try to find similarities in Vietnamese dishes that I've eaten. I think about the Vietnamese food my mother cooked for our family growing up in New Orleans a lot. The taste bud memories I have from my childhood are otherworldly. It's like I can still taste some of it in my mouth right now!
On her future plans: I still daydream, but I would love to be a chef on a private yacht and cook seafood that I just caught myself in the middle of the ocean and then cook it in my bikini. Ocean to fork food, if you will.

Brian Limoges, executive sous chef, Quince, San Francisco, CA

Brian Limoges

On his dream job growing up: I always wanted to be a musician or actor — There's something ethereal about doing your craft in front of people. It's like when you see your favorite band for the first time. When I cook I want that same type of emotion to felt by the guest.

Favorite food trends: Pickling and fermentation. I love the upwards trajectory of fermentation and pickling. I've been eating them my whole life so it's fantastic to see the process be refined. I'm excited to see where the world of agriculture goes and how chefs get creative with it.
His least favorite food phrase: I think cooking is a constant refinement. You're constantly trying to make a technique better the next time you make it. So when I hear "Cooked to Perfection" I'm always baffled.
On his sources of inspiration: Going to the Markets. We go 3-4 times a week to pick out first of the season items and anything else that catches our eyes. I also like to run. Seeing the wild flowers and greens gets my mind turning and is a great way to combat writer's block
Best career advice: Stay positive, everyday brings new challenges its how you deal with them, being consistent
On his future plans: Our farm. We planted potatoes about 6 weeks ago and we're going to see the crops turn out soon. Being able to drive 45 minutes and pick out the produce that we'll use for the day is beyond special. We want to transform that feeling into the dining room, whether it be a center piece on each table that we take away and cook later in the meal, or starting off the meal with a dish of "Freshly dug potatoes" with edible soil and leaves. The possibilities are endless when you have a highly experience farmer just growing for you.

There's a huge amount of goodwill towards one another in the hospitality industry here and the willingness to work together and give back when possible is very heartwarming. I'd like to see more of that nationwide.

Connor Martin, chef/co-founder, Mian, Portland, OR

The man behind one of Portland's up-and-coming pop-ups lives off the collaborative spirit in his city. He constantly works to improve himself by engaging with people around him, and those he deems better than he is. "You can only really learn two ways, through failure or by surrounding yourself with talent greater than your own," he said.

Favorite food city: Hoi An. Incredible ingredients, the best of northern and southern Vietnamese cooking, amazing culinary traditions. In North America I'd say Montreal for the quality, diversity and accessibility of the culinary scene.
Favorite industry trends: The amount of collaboration in Portland is amazing to me. There's a huge amount of goodwill towards one another in the hospitality industry here and the willingness to work together and give back when possible is very heartwarming. I'd like to see more of that nationwide. Community, not competition. What's happening with the increasing interest in plant breeding is a welcome next step in the world of organic agriculture as well; there are some fascinating new varietals coming to market in the next few years due to the hard work of plant breeders in Oregon and across the country. Exciting times!
On the biggest challenge: Retaining talent is becoming increasingly difficult and important. Ideally this will change when a living wage becomes the norm rather than the exception in the kitchen.

Keone Koki, chef de cuisine, Commis, Oakland, CA

Keone Koki is considered a staple at Commis, where he is a master of the bread program and contributes ideas with humility. Incidentally, he says celebrity and glamour are his least favorite trends of the restaurant industry.

Favorite food city: Lima, Peru, my home town.
Go-to breakfast: Coffee.
Inspiration: Ingredients.
Best career advice he's been given: Work just work.
Craft honing: Reading, staging going out to eat.

Margarita Kallas-Lee, pastry chef/owner, Scratch, LA area, CA

Margarita Kallas Lee

With one restaurant open and another in the works, Margarita Kallas-Lee has a lot of balls in the air. She crafts her dishes based on the types of foods she really wants to eat, and in her spare time, she directs music videos and makes sketches with friends.

Favorite food city: Lima, Peru - basically the food is just delicious, most dishes are simple yet complex and always tends to be acid forward.
Favorite food trend: Sunchokes
Least favorite: Anything cryovacted
Bold predictions on future trends: I feel that food is going to go back to the roots of simple ingredients without using any additives to alter the textures.
Go-to breakfast: soft boiled egg with bacon, cucumber and tomato
Best career advice: Lead by example and never let your emotions get in the way of success.
Future plans: Developing desserts with Luke Reyes for Oh Man! Ramen

Marie-Louise Antonia Friedland, Assistant Wine Director/AGM, The Progress/State Bird, San Francisco, CA

She started out pouring water and serving bread at her grandparents' restaurant, and would have ended up shucking peas if her mother hadn't drawn the line at back-of-house child labor. Now, Marie-Louise Friedland lives out her love affair with wine and plans to develop a sake cart for the restaurant.

Post-shift meal: Half an avocado sprinkled with salt and a big glass of cold white wine (usually Chenin)
Biggest influence: My grandfather. From the minute I was born he taught me the importance of pouring every ounce of yourself into what you love to do. He was a chef his whole life and never showed up for the accolades, he showed up to put a smile on people's face. He instilled in me a sense of leadership and how important it is to lead people, not manage them. I will always be grateful to have been able to learn how to pour water tableside at the ripe age of 7 at our family restaurant, Chez Ardid.
Favorite food city: Paris. Now and forever. The cheese, the wine, the chocolates, the bread, I could go on. My heart is in Paris.
Craft honing: Read, taste, and get out there and just talk to people. Honestly, I listen to our guests. If they aren't feeling a certain style of wine then I will take a second to rethink those choices or see if I can find a better example of that kind of wine.

Maxfield Schnee, GM/wine director, Orsa and Winston (Wine Director for the Josef Centeno Restaurant Group), Los Angeles, LA

As a man who deals with wine every day, Maxfield Schnee has noticed a growing accessibility: "I love that wine is becoming a much more accessible thing in the industry, and good wine at that! We've come a long way even in just the last few years - it makes me excited for what the future holds. For example, when I first moved to Echo Park one of my only options was the beer and a shot combo at the local dive. Now I can walk three blocks down the street and drink Tatomer single vineyard Gruner on tap. What's up."

Biggest career influence: Working under David Rossoff at Osteria Mozza has without a doubt been the most influential experience of my career thus far. Insanely focused and detail oriented, he was somehow capable of seeing everything happening on the floor at once. Nothing escaped him, and never was a single standard to be sacrificed - no matter how chaotic things got in the dining room. David is an encyclopedia of hospitality and I strive to emulate the level of service he provided to his guests and demanded of his staff every night at Orsa.
Favorite food city: I have been fortunate enough to have visited many, but nowhere slays me like Los Angeles. Ours is a culture so diverse and far-reaching it almost seems unfair by comparison. It's the proverbial Garden of Babylon for epicureans. I mean, J Gold spent a year banging out just Pico Boulevard! Everyone is out here. And if they're not already, they're certainly on their way.
Craft-honing: I wake up every day thinking about how I can push myself further, how I can advance, how I can move forward. This passion embodies itself in a number of ways. From tasting in a focused fashion every day, to talking with cooks about their dishes and how they are made, to reading voraciously, to talking with staff about service, to going to experience other restaurants and drawing inspiration and motivation from their efforts. I remain a sort of sponge, ready to soak up everything around me.

Maximillian Petty, chef/owner, Eden Hill, Seattle, WA

Max Petty

This inventive chef plays tennis on the side and calls his cat, George Michael, his "pride and joy." He uses seasonal and local ingredients, so long as the quality holds up, and goes for the avant garde in New American cuisine.

Biggest influence: I'd say my mom and sister (baker and chef)
Dream job: I wanted to be a firefighter or a ninja turtle
Sources of inspiration: Everything around me! One dish was inspired from a spilt bowl of eggs that I didn't let anyone clean up until I got a picture. Usually inspired through the amazing bounty of the PNW and those around me. Could be anything.
Future plan: Expanding Eden Hill to a space bigger than a food truck. Or just continuing to have this one. Pretty lucky with that
Career-defining moment: My mother got in an accident and broke her neck leaving her paralyzed, the same week I was offered a chef de cuisine job at 23. I told my mom I as going to quit and come help take care of her and she said "giving up on your dreams would be the real tragedy." Nothing has meant more to me.

Kate Kavanaugh, owner/butcher/creative director, Western Daughters, Denver, CO

Kate Kavanaugh

Kate Kavanaugh is a purveyor of high-quality cuts of meat as well as deli meat, sandwiches, and dry goods, but more than that, she's an advocate of engaging customers in learning about meat and butchery.

Post-shift meal: Rye whiskey neat and a Coors Banquet. Then pho.
Dream job: I desperately wanted to be a train conductor. I still do. I've driven across the country and back three times in the last five years. I love the shifts and changes in landscape from one hour to the next and the vast nothingness and in betweens of country untouched.
Favorite food city: New Orleans. I was meant to be born a Southerner. I love the food, the fat, the booze, the hospitality.
Least favorite food word: I think a lot about words that are associated with my industry - farm to table, sustainable, natural. Sustainable always sticks for me. Here's this word that literally means to bear the weight, to maintain the status quo. I don't want to just talk about conservation - I want to talk about restoration. I want to go beyond the status quo and reduce the weight that we are bearing. And I think this generation can do just that.
Sources of inspiration: Watching other business owners expand and grow their businesses in different ways helps me remember what's possible. Sometimes you get so stuck in the myopia of your own business. Andrew Tarlow, Shae Whitney, Liz Lambert. These people remind me what all is possible.
Craft-honing: Relaxing into it. The more I learn to relax, the more I am able to see and enjoy my craft. I think that keeps it sharp. I find butchery to be a moving meditation. But, then again, I also find that about the dish pit.
Future plans: I can't wait to find a way to expand my business horizontally. I want to stretch out and find businesses that are complementary to Western Daughters and create a family of businesses that all support each other and weave together. It might be a pipe dream but it sure gets me up in the morning.
Biggest challenge: I think that this industry, and business in general, is very much about adapt or die. The challenge is to remain fluid so that you can change your business as needed.

Restaurants are a weird industry - fraught with overworked, underpaid employees, minimal benefits, and a steadily increasing inequality gap between FOH and BOH.

Julien Asseo, executive chef, Restaurant Guy Savoy, Las Vegas, NV

Julien Asseo says that along with his dad, Guy Savoy has had the biggest influence on his career. Now at the helm of Savoy's restaurant in Vegas, Asseo challenges himself to learn new aspects of cooking from bread making to fermentation, and hopes to one day open his own restaurant.

Dream food city: I want to go Bangkok and discover the real street food of Thailand
Least favorite industry trend: I think the term farm to table is being over used and not utilize properly. Too many people are using this term when they are not even really using local or growing anything. I predict that we will go back to eating traditionally and go back to food with real flavors, real texture, real sauces etc.
Go-to breakfast: My wife's English muffin "mcfit fun"it's toasted English muffin melted cheese, avocado, garden ripe tomatoe and a super runny egg.
Sources of inspiration: Nature, my wife, books, travels
Future plans: To open our own place with my wife.
Challenges: Finding talented, devoted, and hardworking staff


Watch: The tasting menu at Commis in just 60 seconds


Lede image of Galaxy Taco by Bradley Schweit. See all Young Guns coverage here.

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