The public nominations for Eater Young Guns may have closed, but there’s a long road ahead until the 2017 class is announced. Now, let’s turn our attention from the new stars of the industry to the veterans: the committee of pros who will help Eater editors pick the next class of up-and-comers.
Each year, our committee weighs in on the potential Young Guns by providing honest feedback about who really is blazing trails and who needs a little more time to hone their talent. They field all kinds of questions about the nominees: Which ones are quietly running a major kitchen or a blowing minds with a beverage program or changing the game at a killer coffee shop? Who is still (mostly) under the radar but staging, studying, or swirling their way to expertise? Who is everyone talking about? Who will soon be making headlines?
The 2017 Eater Young Gun Committee — our judging panel of restaurant and hospitality industry luminaries from across the country — is here to help answer those questions. In alphabetical order, they are:
Hugh Acheson, Atlanta: Georgia-based chef Hugh Acheson runs restaurants in Atlanta, Athens, and Savannah. He’s known for his stint as as a Top Chef judge and has also written two cookbooks and a “booklet” about pickles (and his slow-cooker book will be out later this year). Hear him on Eater’s podcast, the Upsell, here.
Joanne Chang, Boston: Pastry chef Joanne Chang is widely recognized in the Northeast and across the country for her contributions to the industry. In 2016, she won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker; she’s written four cookbooks; she teaches baking classes; and she owns a growing group of popular bakeries called Flour, as well as a funky Asian-inspired diner, Myers + Chang.
Ashley Christensen, Raleigh: Ashley Christensen has made a name for herself building a culinary empire in Raleigh, North Carolina. Even with six restaurants, including the famed Poole’s Diner, the chef and restaurateur still has time to stand up for what’s important to her through charity involvement and political action. Hear her on the Upsell here.
Dominique Crenn, San Francisco: Dominque Crenn is at the top of her game, whether she’s running her two-Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn and its new, more casual sister spot, Petit Crenn (which Eater critic Bill Addison dubbed a best new restaurant) or speaking out about important industry issues, like sexism in the restaurant world. Watch the tasting menu at Atelier Crenn in just 60 seconds right here.
Martha Hoover, Indianapolis: With 12 restaurants, a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthy meals to schoolchildren, and forthcoming women-focused coworking space the Box Office, Indianapolis chef Martha Hoover is steadily killing it. Her restaurants — starting with Cafe Patachou, which opened in 1989 — emphasize food sourcing, sustainability, and community.
JJ Johnson, New York City: JJ Johnson is the chef at Minton’s, a Harlem institution. He was honored as a 2014 Eater Young Gun for his culinary skills, honed at Harlem’s The Cecil, where he created an Afro-Asian-American menu, and before that in an executive kitchen on Wall Street. He’s on the Upsell, too.
Mike Lata, Charleston, South Carolina: Mike Lata arguably put Charleston dining on the map. His restaurant FIG was one of the first destination spots in the city now known for its impeccable food scene. And his follow-up oyster bar, The Ordinary, has the same attention to detail when it comes to the food, the beverage program, and the service.
Corey Lee, San Francisco: Corey Lee is a chef's chef, a technical wizard whose food is as visually arresting as it deeply delicious. If his flagship, Benu, expresses Chinese and Korean cuisines with singular exquisiteness, and his more casual Monsieur Benjamin interprets French bistro food with dazzling precision, he changed the game last year with In Situ, a restaurant that faithfully re-creates some of the greatest dishes by the most innovative chefs in the world.
Micah Melton, Chicago: You can’t talk about cocktails without talking about The Aviary — the big-deal Chicago bar where you can reserve a “three-course cocktail progression” in advance; sister spot to Grant Achatz’s fine dining stunner Alinea — and you shouldn’t talk about The Aviary without talking about beverage director Micah Melton. The 2015 Eater Young Gun is expanding his drinks program to New York this summer and early reports sound very cool.
Marcus Samuelsson, New York City: It seems like Marcus Samuelsson is everywhere these days. The Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef has Harlem restaurants Streetbird and Red Rooster and has been a Chopped judge, written seven cookbooks, and even started a line of teas. He also lends his voice and cooking skills to good causes — like shaping a menu celebrating female chefs of color during Black History Month. Over on Recode, he talks about the importance of immigration to American food.
Caroline Styne, Los Angeles: Caroline Styne’s talent for restaurant operations has taken the Lucques Group — which she runs with chef Suzanne Goin — to a whole new level. Together, they've built up one of LA's most robust and expansive restaurant operations, from the top-level A.O.C., Lucques, and Tavern down to the Larder Baking Co., one of the city's most prolific baking operations. They've opened The Larder, a casual eatery with multiple outlets (including LAX), plus taken over catering services at the Hollywood Bowl, the city's premiere outdoor music venue.
— Bill Addison and Matthew Kang also contributed to this article