Last month, Eater announced this year’s crop of Young Guns semifinalists. These individuals are up-and-coming standouts in the industry and were selected from hundreds of nominees. Over the next few weeks, Eater will offer a look into the lives of these chefs, bartenders, wine experts, and front-of-house professionals, sharing their stories and thoughts about the restaurant world. Here’s a taste of what our semifinalists from the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest had to say.
Patrick Curran, executive chef, Momofuku CCDC, Washington, DC
While his dream job as a kid had him playing for the New York Mets, Patrick Curran's career took a different turn after a job flipping burgers at the Penfield Little League concession stand. Now, the Rochester native serves as executive chef at Momofuku CCDC, where he draws inspiration from being able to work with people from all over the world.
On his future plans: Now that we've gotten the restaurant in DC open and we're past that craziness, I'm excited to see what we can do and how we can grow. This is the fun part.
On challenges within the industry: Being a chef has been glamorized to a degree that not every young cook can see or comprehend the hours it takes to get there. I think that it's important for young cooks (myself included) to look back at what it meant to be a chef before all of the media attention and not take for granted what those before us have worked so hard to create.
His biggest influence: My family. They have always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to, while pushing and supporting me everyday.
Fun fact: I love American cheese and I eat entirely way too much of it throughout the day. It's a great mid-shift snack.
Bobby Pradachith, co-chef/owner, Thip Khao, Washington, DC
After completing culinary school at 21, Bobby Pradachith spent a year working at Minibar by José Andrés before returning to his family's business, where he became co-chef/owner and was granted the chance to learn more about restaurant operations as opposed to just cooking.
On this career-defining moment: At my age, it is a great opportunity to learn as fast as possible and build upon those experiences.
On the challenge of being a young chef: I believe age is just a number. I am confident enough to know how to operate a restaurant. But that does not mean I am a perfect chef — I have made a lot of mistakes and I had to learn how to adapt. I have many years to learn and make mistakes and I am looking forward to the many challenges ahead.
Where he gets his inspiration: The country, Laos, even though I never been there. I have been reading many books and been with my family constantly, to feed from where I come from.
Fun fact: I constantly wear hats, mostly flat caps. You would rarely see me without one.
Matt Demma, head of production and marketing, True Syrups & Garnishes, Washington, DC
After work, 21-year-old Matt Demma turns to his go-to meal. "Tacos. Always tacos," he says. The Boston native found a home for himself in D.C., where he's learned from and been inspired by industry vets like Tory Pratt, Mark Furstenberg, and Nathan Anda. He reads cookbooks like novels and has plans to study for his Level 1 Introductory Sommelier Exam.
"I had to prove this was my real job"
His hopes for new industry trends: I hope to see beer cocktails become more trendy and find their way onto more menus. With the craft beer craze, there's so many beers to choose from which can add real depth to a cocktail.
On his sources of inspiration: I love watching old movies or reading older books and seeing what the characters are drinking.
On the challenges he's faced: Coming into the industry as a teenager, it took a while to be taken seriously. So many kids that age work in a restaurant just to pay the bills or as a side job until they get a "real job"; I had to work hard to prove that this was my real job and my career and that at 18, I knew that I wanted to be in this industry. Once I got past that, I was able to grow and learn more, and I gained valuable mentorships from those I worked with.
His go-to breakfast: Cold pizza or a mozzarella and prosciutto frittata. More likely the pizza. Can you tell I'm Italian?
Ashley Shelton, executive chef, Pastaria, St. Louis, MO
Early on, this pasta expert wanted to be a marine biologist, but when Ashley Shelton turned to cooking, she found her path. She tries to learn, practice her craft, and perform every day, she says. Pancakes with maple syrup and a "great cup of coffee" get her started in the morning.
On her biggest influence: My dad. He has always supported my dream to be a chef. He pushes and challenges me everyday, never letting me settle, after each milestone asking me what's next? His constant push from behind helps fuel my drive to be the best I can be everyday.
Her career-defining moment: The day I stood up for myself and said what I wanted. The day I said I wanted to be the executive chef of Pastaria — it was not given to me at the time but i spent the next year trying to make myself worthy of that title and responsibility. Finally admitting what I wanted and not being afraid of the response was liberating and put me on a path of honesty and acceptance of failure.
On her role as a chef: I love cooking true, simple, honest food. Getting the opportunity to feed hundreds of people everyday and hoping that when they eat our food they have a sense that everything is going to be okay, that they are taken away to place where life is great is why I do what I do everyday. I want to make people happy with food.
Favorite cookbook: A recipe box with handwritten recipes from my mother.
Dorothy Elizabeth, principal bartender, Standby, Detroit, MI
As a maven of craft cocktails in Detroit, Dorothy Elizabeth has mastered the art by making it a science. She studied chemical engineering and carries the scientific method with her behind the bar, even occasionally turning to her old professors to consult on food science.
"It was tricky breaking into Detroit's boys club of booze"
On her biggest influence: The person that has made the biggest impact on my career would be Paul Fradeneck, the principal bartender for Mabel Gray in Hazel Park. Paul was the one that brought me out of my tiny college town and brought me to Detroit. If I was never introduced to Paul, I would still be in Ann Arbor slinging overpriced craft cocktails to college kids. He's the game changer. I owe it all to him and all the opportunities he has given to me.
Her source of inspiration: Traveling. I try and get out of the country two to three times a year to stay abreast on global market trends and to get out of my own bubble. Everything I taste, see, and touch gets rerouted into new cocktail possibilities.
Industry challenges: There are not enough women in craft cocktails. It was a touch tricky breaking into Detroit's boys club of booze. The sheer act of trying to prove I'm not just another token pretty face, but actually a force to be reckoned with, took a bit of muscle.
Dream job and potential future plans: I always wanted to open up a small little cafe for when I'm 85. Nothing huge, simple espresso bar with some Swedish desserts. I always imagined myself eating cinnamon rolls and reading while being the matriarch of something grassroots- and community-driven.
Julia Momose, head bartender, Greenriver, Chicago, IL
Momose grew up in Japan and got her start in the restaurant industry doing dishwashing, serving, prep, and vending for two Turkish brothers who owned a restaurant and food stand near Tsukiji market in Kyoto, which remains her favorite food city.
On her biggest influence: A man whose name I may never know, but whose actions I will never forget: the Japanese bartender in Kobe who hand-chipped perfect spheres of ice for each cocktail he made. No matter how simple the drink, be it a gin and tonic or a personal creation, he took the time to make each drink the best that he could make it. The dedication and attention to detail that he showed continue to inspire me and drive me to be better every moment.
Favorite industry trend: Low-proof cocktails! I love to see people enjoying time with other people — or perhaps with a good book — at the bar over a more extended period of time, rather than have one or two drinks and be "done for the night."
Fun fact: I am fluent in Japanese. It is my heart language — when I am really happy, angry, or sad, I often revert back to speaking in Japanese.
Fredrick Noinaj, executive chef, Americano 2211, Chicago, IL
From a first job wrapping egg rolls and making crab rangoon at his parents' Thai restaurant, Fred Noinaj has stepped up big in Chicago. The chef loves diving into the "why" of cooking and reading about the origins of food, including in his favorite cookbook by David Thompson, Thai Food.
"That was a moment of serenity where it all clicked."
On a career-defining moment: I was getting my shit kicked in on the line at Avec, and then looked up into the dining room to see people genuinely enjoy their food and having a fantastic time eating our food. That was a moment of serenity where it all clicked. It was just worth it: Stressing over getting food out quickly so people can enjoy themselves. I do this to make people happy — feeding people makes me happy.
Favorite post-shift meal: Beef chow mein from Chi Cafe in Chinatown
Plans for the future: Opening my Thai restaurant focused on making anthropologically-minded decisions on Thai dishes. Or just trying to approach food as if indigenous Thais settled in the Midwest.
Least favorite foods: Canned asparagus and canned peas. Have you seen them? Have you tasted them?
Hassan Musselmani, chef/owner, The Drunken Rooster, Detroit, MI
With a food truck set to open in Detroit this summer, Hell's Kitchen alum Hassan Musselmani draws inspiration from his culture — his mother's family is from Brightmoor in Detroit and his father's family is from Lebanon. He says he has always wanted "to be able to cook amazing food for my friends and family."
On the best career advice he's been given: Take the knowledge you have right now and start your own business. You'll learn until you die.
On a defining moment of his career: The moment I realized I didn't want to make the fanciest food. Just the most delicious.
His thoughts on industry trends: I'm loving all the fermentation and pickling going on and the full utilization of animals. Kind of tired of everything being plated on wood.
Go-to breakfast: Seared pork chop on an everything bagel with cream cheese and avocado, and an over-easy egg.
Patrick Edward Clark II, chef/co-owner, Red Cup, Oklahoma City, OK
It's surprising to some that this non-vegetarian is the chef at an all-vegetarian restaurant, but it's true. And he's taking on new challenges creating inspiring menus in a part of the country known for its cattle.
Ongoing projects: We are currently running a pop-up series, my Red Cup Supper Club, meeting every second Sunday for an eight-course tasting menu all of my design, featuring the best in local produce, highlighting the wonderful produce that our farmers grow.
His career-defining moments: As young as I am, I think I experience at least one a year. Last year, it was being the nominated for best chef in Oklahoma by the people.
A source of his inspiration: I spend a ton of time watching other chefs, and it's basically the only reason I'm so active on Instagram. Since I don't have a chef, I make the most of my time by seeing what 100+ chefs around the world are doing with flavors, plating, and cooking techniques.
Challenges: I get a lot of heat for not working with meat in Cattle Country. I'm by no means a vegetarian or vegan, but I understand and sympathize — especially when these are people who don't really have many other dining out options, with our restaurant being the only solely vegetarian place (there is a new, all-vegan place opening soon, but not yet) in OKC.
Sarah Rinkavage, chef de cuisine, Lula Cafe, Chicago, IL
Post-shift, Sarah Rinkavage opts for a shot of Jameson and a Tecate, along with tamales. While she has a tendency to be quiet and withdrawn, she says she's working on pushing her boundaries to become a good leader.
A source of her inspiration: Colors. I love to create dishes based on color profile. It's a great way to find non-typical pairings of ingredients.
Favorite industry trend: Using fresh turmeric. It's healthy, has crazy flavor, and adds a beautiful vibrancy to dishes. We use it at Lula in a dish with carrots and also at the bar as an ingredient in drinks.
Plans for the future: Creating a few collaborative all-women dinners with inspiring females in the industry. I've done two now so far under the name Chicago Woman's Brigade that were very successful.
Zachary Gutweiler, chef/owner, Reed's Hollow, Des Moines, IA
This Louisiana native is forging his own path creating gastronomic masterpieces in Iowa. He draws inspiration from everything from dramatic events in his life to pop culture and is constantly experimenting with new methods.
Post-work drink: Fernet Branca
Go-to breakfast: French press before anything then chicken-fried steak
On how he continues honing his craft: Reading cookbooks, experimenting, constantly learning from my mistakes
Best advice: "Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom [...] is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go." — Anthony Bourdain
Challenges: Besides the mass time away from my family, I would say kitchen staffing in a non-food town
Zoë Taylor, pastry chef, Milktooth, Indianapolis, IN
Once upon a time, Zoë Taylor thought she would get a job raising horses and teaching college-level English literature. "Glad I skipped academia for the grind of the restaurant industry most days," she said. She gets up before the sun for the morning pastry grind and leans on her restaurant family for support.
On her biggest influences: My real parents, who never missed an opportunity to spend three hours each night in the kitchen cooking, meaning dinner was never on the table before 9PM and I loved every minute of it. And can't forget my work parent, Jon Brooks, who is endlessly challenging me. In all ways possible.
Favorite industry trend: I love the burgeoning trend of savory pastries. I have a sweet tooth that's limited to crushing a bag of Milanos right before bedtime, so having something with blue cheese in it first thing in the morning gets me pretty excited.
Dreams of the future: When working your ass off pays big, preferably in the vein of publishing a collaborative cookbook that highlights the best of Milktooth and the various artists and chefs that work there, and then inevitably fleeing to South America to open a taco-and-Mezcal shack that I ride my horse to everyday.
Post-shift meal: A green Tabasco-smothered burrito and big gulp of our sour rose (sparkling rose, yuzu, and blood orange juices).
Knives at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Photo: Daniel Krieger.