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Announcing the Eater Young Guns 2017 Semifinalists

Introducing the latest class of young industry talent

Eater Young Guns is Eater’s annual search to recognize the best and brightest talent in the restaurant industry. Since 2012, Young Guns has recognized front- and back-of-house newcomers who exhibit tenacity and desire to succeed through food, drink, and service. These rising stars — who are under 30 or have less than five years of experience — are not run-of-the-mill chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers. Not only do they work hard at what they do, but they are also mighty talented and deeply admired by their peers and guests, and they represent the future of dining in America.

This year, Eater received over 1,000 nominations for nominees who reside in 101 different cities across the United States and Canada. With input from Eater editors, past winners, and our judging committee of industry leaders, the list was whittled down to 50 — well, 55, technically, since we have five teams of two — up-and-comers.

Finalists will be announced on June 22. As the day approaches, Eater will share the accomplishments of the dedicated chefs, “curd nerds,” bar managers, pitmasters, partners, foragers, and distillers who will make — or already are making — some serious waves in the industry. If you don’t know these names yet, you will soon.

But first, here are our talented semifinalists in alphabetical order:


Leah Blewett

Claire Adler

Age: 24
Position: Cheese Director and Beverage Administrator
Restaurant: Tria Cafe and Tria Taproom
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Instagram: @claireadler

From her nomination: “Claire is a devoted curd nerd who brings boundless enthusiasm — and the knowledge of someone twice her age — to her role as cheese director. She works closely with our purveyors to bring in award-winning, unusual, and delicious cheeses, and educates our staff on them during weekly trainings. As if all that weren't enough, she is also an indispensable member of our office team, handling our systems like a pro and making certain that our wine, cheese, and beer cafes are always stocked with the finest and most diverse cheeses available. To have achieved so much at her age is truly staggering, and we feel very lucky to have her. She is entirely deserving of this recognition.”


Shannon Renfroe

Suzi An

Age: 27
Position: Creative Director of Operations
Restaurant: Salare and Junebaby
Location: Seattle, WA
Instagram: @imsuzijane

From her nomination: “Suzi is one of the most dedicated and passionate people in the industry. She will become a fierce force in due time. She has been with us for three years and has moved up from server to floor manager, and now director of operations. She is the one behind the scenes getting shit done. PR, marketing, advertising, and charities — she does it all.”

An on her favorite post-shift meal: Naeng myeon (cold Korean noodle soup) and a glass of white Burgundy.”


Krystal Renè

Kevin Ashade

Age: 29
Position: Executive Chef and Owner
Company: GourmEATS Catering Services
Location: Dallas, TX
Twitter: @chefkevashade
Instagram: @chefkevashade

From 2014 Young Guns winner JJ Johnson: “I think he’s doing some really good stuff. He beat Bobby Flay cooking a traditional French dish, one of the dishes that made Bobby Flay a king. And I think what he does is really interesting. He's carved this path for himself cooking amazing food for athletes and celebrities. And when I'm looking at Young Guns, I'm looking at people who are doing things different now. From a catering perspective, I don't think anybody's cooking at that level that he's cooking at.”


Emily Blount

Age: 36
Position: Owner
Restaurant: Saint Leo
Location: Oxford, MS
Twitter: @eatsaintleo
Instagram: @eat_saint_leo

From her nomination: “Saint Leo is Emily's first restaurant and it has already been nominated as a 2017 James Beard Foundation semifinalist. Even with less than five years of industry experience, Emily's leadership and vision are putting Oxford on the map and creating a place for the community to enjoy simple, locally inspired dishes.”

Blount on the best career advice she has received: “To follow my gut instincts. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest from the trees when you are so immeshed in something. Big or little decisions, if I don't follow my gut instincts, I'm usually wrong.”


Paloa + Murray

Trigg Brown and Josh Ku

Age: 28 and 29
Position: Chef-Partner and Managing Partner
Restaurant: Win Son
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Instagram: @trigg.brown and @therealkeanureeves

From their nomination: “When I found out a Taiwanese-American restaurant was opening up right here in Brooklyn, I was so surprised and excited. I needed to try it out and see if it was truly Taiwanese food. They had all the quintessential Taiwanese food, from marinated cucumbers to lou rou fan. The flavors instantly brought me back to when I was young, sitting with my family eating at a night market. Trigg and Josh orchestrated a beautiful menu featuring a perfect blend of Taiwanese food with a slight American-style touch. They are always walking around making sure everyone is being taken care of and enjoying the food.”

Brown on his plan for the future: “I’ve definitely realized that food is politically charged whether you intend it to be that way or not, so I would like to use that energy in a positive way. I’m excited about using food as a medium for promoting a better general understanding and maybe help folks grasp the regional history of Taiwan better, along with culture and politics, which I’m still learning about myself.”

Ku on his plan for the future: “With the restaurant, it's about pushing a better understanding of Taiwan and in general, a global perspective. Also, a short country-music career.”


Samuel Meono

Erin Connor

Age: 25
Position: Production Manager
Restaurant: Blackbird Doughnuts
Location: Boston, MA
Instagram: @ermaco

From her nomination: “Erin joined Blackbird Doughnuts just over a year ago, after moving home to Boston from Maryland. After several years cooking and working as sous chef in fine dining restaurants in New York City and Frederick, Maryland, she longed to return to her home state to try something totally new. Erin scored a job as a baker for Blackbird and quickly progressed to production manager. Making a move from fine dining to doughnuts for the purpose of learning something new is totally gutsy, and I admire Erin greatly for taking that step. She is immensely talented and dedicated to the culinary field.”

Connor on her favorite food city: “Worcester, Massachusetts, hands down. Table Talk Pies, Polar Beverages, hot dogs at Coney Island (established in 1918), meatball sandwiches at Vincent's, and literally anything on the menu at Gold Star Diner, just to name a few. If perhaps you’re feeling fancy, you can get some of the best beers in the world on tap at Dive Bar and Armsby Abbey. Boom.”


Carly Diaz

Marcelle Crooks

Age: 27
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Little Bird Bistro
Location: Portland, OR
Instagram: @cellebow

From Eater’s Mattie John Bamman: “Marcelle Crooks took over the Little Bird Bistro kitchen under the guidance of chef Gabriel Rucker — the recipient of two James Beard awards — in 2016. Since then, she has maintained the high level of cooking one expects from a Rucker-owned restaurant: She reveals a love of French cooking seen through West Coast eyes, with plates like the "chicken-fried trout" with pickled carrots, snap peas, peppers, and dijon cream. But Crooks has also quickly asserted her own cooking background without breaking with Rucker's style, with such dishes as the appetizer of smoked mussels — an iconic ingredient of her native Whidbey Island, Washington — with tomato relish, smoked paprika aioli, and curly fries.”

Crooks on the moment that defined her career: “Tickets were pouring out of the machine, and it was my second night running the line by myself (first lead line job). In that moment, the ship was either going down or we were going to sail through the storm. I took a deep breath and grabbed the wheel.”


Philip Odegard

Stefani De Palma

Age: 28
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Addison
Location: San Diego, CA
Instagram: @chefstefani

From her nomination: “De Palma — a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu — first connected with Addison at a career fair hosted by her culinary school, and after learning of chef Bradley’s impressive reputation and experience, she applied to Addison for a pastry chef position. After joining the team in 2008 directly out of school, De Palma has diligently worked her way up through Addison’s kitchen, ascending the ranks from chef de partie, chef tournant, and pastry sous chef to sous chef. In 2016, the 28-year-old assumed the chef de cuisine role, where she works closely with chef Bradley to continue Addison's culinary evolution.”


Kari Cummings

Nadine Donovan

Age: 28
Position: Executive Pastry Chef
Restaurant group: Secret Sauce Food & Beverage (Steuben's, Ace Eat Serve, Vesta)
Location: Denver, CO
Instagram: @sweetondnvr

From Eater’s Andra Zeppelin: “There is magic in what Nadine does with desserts, and really, there is magic around Nadine as a person. It's passion, measured intensity, well-directed creativity. She waves her wand and turns out dishes that at once bring back childhood comforts and raise the bar of contemporary sweets. Texture is one of her secrets; custards, shards of chocolate, nitro caramel corn, flavored meringues, or fruit consommes are pieces of her arsenal.

As pastry chef for the Secret Sauce group, Nadine continues to prove not only her talent, but also her versatility. Her menus change seasonally and stretch over a modern diner, an Asian eatery, and a first-generation new American restaurant that opened 20 years ago. She is one of a kind.”

Donovan on her dream job as a kid: “Honestly, I have always wanted to be a pastry chef. As a child, I was constantly in the kitchen, inventing and making a mess. I would host imaginary cooking shows with friends and peddle sweet treats to our neighbors. Back then, I truly believed that I invented cream cheese frosting.”


Vina Sananikone

Paolo Dungca

Age: 26
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Restaurant Eve
Location: Alexandria, VA
Instagram: @paolodungca

From his nomination: “One of the most hard-working, talented, and underrated up-and-coming chefs in the D.C. metro area. He does not speak much, but his creations and flavors allows people to understand who he is as a person and a wonderful chef! He and a few other Filipinos host a private supper club that highlights their Filipino heritage with approachable but forward-thinking cooking. Filipino food has become a big addition to the D.C. metro food scene and he will continue the food movement. He does not get much recognition or credit, since he worked under great chefs, but some of those great successes from them were from my great friend, Paolo Dungca. I think he deserves this so much, and I know for a fact that he will push the Filipino movement.”

Dungca on his favorite chapter in a food book: “My favorite chapter in Grant Achatz’s Life On The Line was the part where he was diagnosed with cancer and was still putting endless amount of hours working in the kitchen at Alinea. As a young cook reading this, it inspired me to push through every day.”


Eliesa Johnson

Adam Eaton

Age: 28
Position: Executive Chef
Restaurant: Saint Dinette
Location: Saint Paul, MN
Twitter: @chefadameaton
Instagram: @chefadameaton

Eaton on his dream job as a kid: “I have wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember. As a young, fidgety child with a penchant for destruction, it was an easy way for the adults in my life to distract my restless hands and keep me out of trouble. As I grew older, cooking continued to bring me a sense of peace and focus I was unable to find anywhere else.”

Eaton on his favorite food city: “Montreal was the first vacation I ever took with the sole intention to eat my way through a city — and I did. I was quickly enamored by the seemingly effortless balance between indulgence and relaxed style. My lineage also traces back to the city (my great-grandfather emigrated from Poland to Montreal in 1907), and the melting pot of my Jewish heritage, pervasive Eastern European influences, and unapologetic culinary expression in one city were irresistible. It felt like home.”


Levi Miller Photography

Amelia Ekus

Age: 28
Position: General Manager
Company: Twitter Corporate Cafe
Location: New York, NY
Twitter: @twEATS

From her nomination: “After graduating with a degree in food activism from the Gallatin School at NYU, Amelia joined Jonathan Waxman's lauded Barbuto as front of the house manager before being asked to launch the food and beverage program at NYC's Neuehouse. Shortly after, Ekus was headhunted by Guckenheimer USA to take the helm of the general manager position for Twitter NYC. Ekus has exceeded expectations by bringing creative food, brain-fueling power, and detail-oriented service to the TWEats cafe. Through #puns, relationships with local purveyors, and daily changes to the menus, Ekus has married the Twitter brand with cultural, economic, and environmental ethos. Celebrating International Women's Day and showcasing top female chef dishes from around the country is just the tip of the iceberg in how Ekus constantly and consistently carries the day’s current-events feed through the kitchen window. Ekus has a leadership style that has earned her respect among her peers through nontraditional team-building exercises that showcase each individual in the kitchen and her team at large.”

Ekus on her favorite post-shift drink: “It depends on the season, but I happen to have rosé on tap in my apartment so that has been the favorite lately, as it gets hot. There is nothing better than ice cold rosé in summer.”


Brittany Purlee

Daniel Espinoza

Age: 27
Position: Chef
Restaurant: Anomar Underground Dinners
Location: Chicago, IL
Twitter: @_dannythecook
Instagram: @dannythecook

From his nomination: “I had the opportunity to work with Danny on a Dinner Lab dinner for Taste Talks. He is passionate about food in general, especially the food of his grandmother, [who is] Mexican. He combines classic French technique — which he's honed in the U.S. and in France — to create delicious food. He's a straight-up MacGyver in the kitchen — he can put together a kitchen with a Crock Pot, duct tape, and some chopsticks anywhere in the world. His versatility, problem-solving, and openness to his surroundings make him a great chef. Mostly it's his passion and love of being in the kitchen and around food that make him a great chef wrapped up in a really nice guy.”


Genie Kwon

Timothy Flores

Age: 27
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Oriole
Location: Chicago, IL
Twitter: @TimothyRyan_13
Instagram: @timothyryan13

Flores on his dream job as a kid: “I didn't have one. I was always into athletics, which is the one thing I pursued through college. I always thought I'd end up coaching wrestling. But even throughout college I didn't really know what I wanted to do until I found myself in the restaurant industry.”


Kade Gianinetti

Age: 28
Position: Co-owner
Employed by: Method Roasters, American Grind, The Way Back
Location: Denver, CO

From Eater’s Andra Zeppelin: “Some knew Kade as a bartender, and he was a damn good one. Others knew him as the owner of Method Roasters. And then he became a burger master and a restaurant and bar owner. Kade has drive like no one else. He has the kind of quiet ambition that makes him look chill and relaxed, but the man does not stop. He pushes constantly and he does things his own way, no matter what the risks are. His confidence is backed by talent and ceaseless hard work. It is that work and energy that is about to produce one more restaurant, coming up this fall.”


Zach Lieberman

Chris Gonzalez

Age: 29
Position: Co-owner and Chef
Restaurant: Hapa Food Truck
Location: Stamford, CT
Twitter: @hapafoodtruck
Instagram: @hapafoodtruck

From his nomination: “For Chris, leadership comes naturally and generosity is never an afterthought — his genuine spirit is reflected through his cooking, and his dishes tell his story of determination and perseverance. Every opportunity to give back is seized, and he is dedicated to learning by spending any extra time working to improve his craft and teaching others. He welcomes anybody who’s willing to learn onto the team. In addition, the truck is currently working toward becoming a no-waste kitchen. All food scraps are recycled and used in stocks or other dishes, and anything unusable is separated and brought to a local composting site to be turned into organic fertilizer. Gonzalez is advocating to reduce food waste by educating other businesses on the benefits and signing them up for the composting program. The business’s goal is to change the way people think about the restaurant industry and make it a better place.”


All Heart PR

Suzanne Hays

Age: 28
Position: Beer Director
Restaurant: Row 34
Location: Boston, MA
Instagram: @_suzanimal

From her nomination: “Suzanne’s entry into the restaurant industry was a means to an end — extra support as she continued her volunteer work. As a hostess at P.F. Chang’s, she quickly moved through the ranks to become a server and a bartender. After moving to Boston, she was approached by a regular P.F. Chang’s customer, the owner of the Bukowski Tavern, to join the team at the well-known beer-centric pub. As a bartender at Bukowski, she found herself getting a crash course in craft brews and was instantly hooked. When a management position became available at beer-centric oyster bar Row 34 in 2014, Suzanne joined the front-of-house team, continuing to immerse herself the beer world by helping to develop Row 34’s wide-ranging beer program. In 2016, Suzanne was named beer director at Row 34, a role that allows her to help others navigate the world of beer and expand their palates.”

Hays on what she does to hone her craft: “The beer community is ever growing, so it can be hard to keep up at times. Whether it's visiting new breweries, going to events, traveling, reading, or tasting, the best way to stay on top of it all is by exploring.”


Andrew Reiner

Sarah Heard

Age: 28
Position: Executive Chef
Company: Suzanne Court Catering
Location: Austin, TX
Twitter: @ChefHeard
Instagram: @chef.heard

From her nomination: “She actively works with young women and culinary students to help them break into the field. She loves to educate cooks on the process behind the food. She cooks, gardens, raises chickens for eggs and goats for milk. In the last five years, she has endured the care of an infant with cancer, overcome a divorce, and adjusted to becoming a single mom while finding time to support and mentor several culinary students, volunteer for local fundraisers, and work full time.”

Heard on the moment that defined her career: “I helped plan a pop-up collaboration that benefitted a female-driven culinary magazine, Honeypot. The event was called "Bruise Violet" and every course drew inspiration from a ’90s female power-rock song and was created by one an amazing female chef. The energy during the event was intoxicating, the chefs were so amazing to work with, and everything was so organized, powerful, and smooth.”


David Fields

Jesse Ito

Age: 28
Position: Chef-Owner
Restaurant: Royal Sushi and Izakaya
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Instagram: @jesseito

From his nomination: “Jesse has been studying under his father, Masaharu Ito, for years. He sold his father's restaurant, Fuji, in New Jersey to open an izakaya with a serious sushi bar in Philadelphia. His eight-seat sushi bar focuses on extremely traditional omakase, something Philadelphia doesn't have. His knowledge of fish and his impeccable knife skills are on display for guests in an almost show-like experience.”


Bryan Jessop

Age: 31
Position: Forager
Company: Morchella Wild Foods
Location: San Francisco, CA
Instagram: @morchellawildfoods

From his nomination: “After working for seven years as a research associate at a management consulting firm, Bryan turned his passion for foraging into a full-time job. His self-motivation, dedication, and care for his products make him stand out among the many great purveyors we work with.”


Lindsey Spieker

Laura Johnson

Age: 25
Position: Head Distiller/Founder/Owner
Company: You & Yours Distilling Co.
Location: San Diego, CA
Instagram: @laurakj

From her nomination: “Laura truly epitomizes what it means to be an entrepreneur, and a female one at that, in an industry dominated by an older, more male generation. She has persevered to make her dreams come true and share something unique and wonderful with the world around her. When you meet Laura you will be captivated by her genuine, intelligent, and inspiring self, and her new location of You & Yours is nothing short of her personality as well."


Brunette

Tracy and Jamie Kennard

Age: both 43
Position: Co-owners and Bartenders
Restaurant: Brunette Wine Bar
Location: Kingston, NY
Instagram: @brunettewinebar

Tracy on their biggest influence: “The biggest influence on our current career has been our clients from our other businesses in design and fashion. Working closely with others on projects that are near and dear to their hearts has helped us hone our concept of service at Brunette.”

Tracy on her favorite food scene in a book: “In Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, there’s a scene where the character is walking along a stream. He sees bed of watercress, dips his hands in the water, grabs a double handful, then sits down by stream to eat the peppery and bright greens.”


Meghan Leigh Photography

George Kovach

Age: 28
Position: Pastry Chef
Restaurant: Band of Bohemia
Location: Chicago, IL
Instagram: @georgekovach

Kovach on his plan for the future: “Eventually I'd like to go back to North Carolina and open a whole-hog barbecue spot with my family in honor of my grandfather. I've heard stories about how he had a barbecue spot in the ’40s and I would like to live the old-school pitmaster life.”


Kaley Laird

Age: 30
Position: Pastry Chef
Restaurant: Rhubarb
Location: Asheville, NC
Instagram: @klaird5

From her nomination: “Laird has numerous responsibilities, including leading the development and improvement of the bread program at the Rhu. Collectively, the team has been building upon this program, of which they are already proud, to create offerings that are even more dynamic and accessible for guests. Every loaf of bread and pastry item is made in-house from start to finish using local ingredients, and many of the offerings continue to be carefully crafted by hand, adding a signature touch that nods to rusticity, yet includes a modern twist.”

Laird on her favorite food city: “San Francisco will forever hold my heart. It's forever growing and changing. You can get anything you want, whether it’s amazing casual Korean barbecue or Michelin fine dining or everything in between. You could spend a lifetime eating your way through and never be too full for more.”


Jesse Mallin

Kim LeVine

Age: 28
Position: Director of Operations
Restaurants: La Vara, Txikito, El Quinto Pino, and Tekoá
Location: New York, NY
Instagram: @kimalevine

LeVine on her favorite food city: “One of my favorite food experiences of my life was walking through the Mercado De Paloquemao in Bogotá. The sheer variety of fruits was absolutely dreamlike and the blocks of family stalls selling traditional soups and sweets was everything you could ever want. I didn't have enough time to experience the depth of Bogotá's food scene as well as I wanted to, but I was in that market for hours tasting and looking, and it left such an impression on me of a city that treats food so differently than is typical at home. It was thrilling and a total paradigm shift, and I thank Bogotá for that.”


Laura Loomis

Age: 29
Position: Pitmaster
Restaurant: Two Bros BBQ Market
Location: San Antonio, TX
Instagram: @thebbqqueen

From Eater’s Nadia Chaudhury: “Barbecue is the Texas way, and pitmaster Laura Loomis upholds that tried and true tradition over at Two Bros. BBQ at the San Antonio joint from from chef Jason Dady. Without any smoked meats background whatsoever, she quickly went from running the cash register to helming the pits, perhaps even following the footsteps of the legendary badass Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow's BBQ.”

Loomis on the biggest challenge that she’s faced: “Barbecue is a subjective business. One person says it’s the best; the next say it ain't right. That will never go away in Texas, home of the backyard barbecue kings. But I love it and strive to be the best each day.”


Ruta Elvikyte

Michael Mai

Age: 26
Position: Coffee Manager
Employed by: Mercantile and Mash and Arabica Soda
Location: Charleston, SC
Twitter: @maiserly
Instagram: @maiserly

Mai on his favorite cookbook: “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table. My parents wanted me to be a very American child, so I had to sort of discover their cultures on my own when I was older. (Father=Vietnamese, Mother=Mexican). I bought this book when I was in college and it has reconnected me with my roots.”

Mai on his favorite chain restaurant: “OUTBACK for the BLOOMIN ONION, bro. Give me that and a liter of Foster’s and we got a stew goin’.”


Quinn Williamson

Elias Majid

Age: 28
Position: Tea Master and Founder
Employed by: Eli Tea
Location: Birmingham, MI
Instagram: @eliteabar

From his nomination: "He is a shining example of what a powerhouse in the food community looks like, especially in an area as hot as the Detroit-Metro. He is passionate about his business and is active in the community. As a LGBT business owner in the area, he also makes a point to donate time and resources to local nonprofits. He is as much a member of the community as he is a business presence."

Majid on his first job in the industry: “I researched native edible plants of the Great Lakes for two years in college, which included a lot of native berries and herbal teas.”


Olivier Koning

Mimi Mendoza

Age: 28
Position: Pastry Chef
Restaurant: Senia
Location: Honolulu, HI
Instagram: @thewaywardbaker

From Eater’s Hillary Dixler: “Mimi Mendoza heads up the pastry team at Senia, easily the most buzzed-about Hawaii restaurant in recent memory. Tasked with creating the final bites and memories diners will have at the ambitious Honolulu fine dining pioneer, Mendoza's desserts are unexpected, sophisticated, and, obviously, Instagram worthy.”

Mendoza on the biggest challenge that she’s faced: “I think the biggest challenge in our particular industry is mental health. Sometimes you don't even see how the physical stress has affected you until someone outside points it out. We work hard in this industry and 99 percent of our peers are tired. I think the most important thing I've learned is that I need to be more patient and more caring toward myself. Finding balance is hard in our industry, but it's doable. I took 10 months off from commercial kitchens a few years ago to recollect myself. It was the best thing I could have done, because I have more focus and drive than I ever have.”


Molly DeCoudreaux

George Meza

Age: 29
Position: Executive Chef
Restaurant: Onsen
Location: San Francisco, CA
Twitter: @george_meza
Instagram: @lstayslim

From Eater’s Ellen Fort: “After years working under chef Hiro Sone at Ame, chef George Meza has transitioned to a much smaller, more intimate environment at Onsen's Tenderloin bathhouse and restaurant. It's a unique venue for Meza's skills, showcasing technique and bold flavors in a series of skewers and Japanese small plates, like dumplings and charred brassicas. Meza is at home in this aesthetic, where precise execution is supported by passion.”


Deborah Michail

Age: 26
Position: Chef
Restaurant: Logmeh LA
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Instagram: @dubmic

Michail on a future trend prediction: “A trend I’m hoping to bring to Los Angeles is communal-style dining, a restaurant that is a functioning co-op where front of house and back of house have the same intention for success and we all help each other reach goals.”


Farrah Skeiky

Daniela Moreira

Age: 27
Position: Executive Chef and Owner
Restaurant: Timber Pizza Company
Location: Washington, D.C.
Instagram: @danimoreiracamia

Moreira on who had the biggest influence on her career: “My uncle, Enrique. He battled his whole life with a terminal disease and he died when I was 16. But he left me with the best life lessons anybody could have given me. No matter how hard anything is, with hard work I can achieve anything in this world.”

Moreira on her favorite food city: “Marul. Not a city at all, just a tiny town in Cordoba, Argentina, where nobody locks their homes and you are welcome to come in and have an amazing meal cooked by gauchos.”


Michael Scaffidi

Andrea Morris

Age: 28
Position: Beverage Director
Restaurant: Nix
Location: New York, NY
Instagram: @sommorris

Morris on her favorite industry trend:I love how meat is no longer the center of every plate. The idea of meat as garnish is really intriguing to me, and a much more sustainable way to eat.”

Morris on her industry horror story: “When I was a server at Eleven Madison Park, the sommelier team was kind enough to hold a mock service exam for myself and a couple other servers preparing for our certified somm exams. During Champagne service I was so nervous that I dropped my bottle and it shattered. They had me stand in the foaming wine and answer theory questions while John Ragan mopped around me. It was mortifying, but I'm glad I got those jitters out before the exam!”


Jeremy Hall

Shota Nakajima

Age: 27
Position: Chef-Owner
Restaurant: Adana
Location: Seattle, WA
Instagram: @chefshota

From Eater’s Adam Callaghan: “Though Nakajima's first restaurant, Naka, was well received critically, its devotion to the intricate and uncommon Japanese culinary art of kaiseki didn't resonate with the general public. So Nakajima pivoted, replacing Naka with the more affordable and casual Adana, demonstrating the kind of flexibility that one might expect from a young man with one foot in his home city and the other in Japan, where he spent years learning his craft. The shift has opened up his cooking to a wider audience while still allowing him to innovate: His menu changes monthly, inspired by the flora he hunts in the wilds surrounding Seattle, and still retains elements of the delicate complexity of kaiseki, but with enough irreverence that his executive chef and the rest of the kitchen team can be more involved in the menu-design process. Meanwhile, Nakajima plans to further the cause of kaiseki through quarterly dinners, and, perhaps someday, he'll have built a strong enough following to reintroduce the Northwest to Naka.”

Nakajima on his least favorite food word: “Authentic. What is the actual definition of an authentic cuisine for any kind of cuisine? For example, Japanese cuisine has been around before the 1500s. How would anyone know what authentic is? Food is like anything else, in that it evolves naturally as time goes by.”


Theresa Cantafio

Dave Park

Age: 27
Position: Chef-Owner
Restaurant: Hanbun
Location: Chicago, IL
Instagram: @dave_cook_love

From 2015 Young Gun winner Micah Melton: “His restaurant is in the suburbs of Chicago and it’s getting people out of the city to go see him. I almost can't believe that he's only 27, looking at it. He's got this soul of chef that's been cooking for 15 years.”

Park on the biggest influences on his career: “My mom and my grandparents. Their cooking always seemed to nurture me, and the food I shared with them is what kickstarts every dish I make.”


Kamilia Echeveste

Daniel Peach

Age: 28
Position: Chef
Restaurant: Botiwalla and Chai Pani
Location: Decatur, GA, and Asheville, NC
Instagram: @dannybhai

Peach on his dream job as a kid: “An astronaut. Then I found out I was too tall.”

Watch the Chai Pani team in action:

Chow Down on Pani Puri at Chai Pani

Pani puri: The delicious street snack you need to eat in one bite

Posted by Eater on Saturday, March 25, 2017

Henry Hargreaves

Yael Peet and Elena Yamamoto

Age: 27 and 30
Position: Co-chefs
Restaurant: Karasu
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Instagram: @smokedsaba and @elechan

Peet and Yamamoto on where they draw inspiration from: “We draw inspiration from memories and get excited about what comes into season.”

Peet on an industry horror story: “After a holiday weekend, we were taking out four days worth of garbage and a bag full of a thousand putrid eggs exploded all over us.”

Yamamoto on one plan for her future she’s excited about: “We just started an umeshu (plum liquor) that’ll be ready in six months.”


Charly Pierre and Minerva Eva Chereches

Age: 28 and 23
Position: Co-owner and Head Chef; Co-owner and Director of Operations
Restaurant: Fritai
Location: New Orleans, LA
Instagram: @chukk_p and @mnervous

Check out Pierre, Cherches, and Fritai on Eater’s The Meat Show:


Max Shapovalov

Aaron Polsky

Age: 29
Position: Bar Manager
Employed by: Harvard & Stone
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Instagram: @aaronpolsky

From 2015 Young Gun winner Micah Melton: “Harvard & Stone is definitely one of the better cocktail bars in LA, but I think it's also one of the better cocktail bars in the country. The one thing about Aaron that's super cool is he's in an environment where he can do some super-interesting stuff. I went to an event that he made the drinks for... he basically looked at what wines they would pair with the dishes and he tried to make cocktails to replicate the wines. For examples, the first one was strawberries and oyster shells and lactic acid, and they actually put it in bottles and let it age, and it was strikingly similar to the flavor profiles of a wine, but it was tequila and these cool flavors. It's very, very rare that I see something, a concept, in terms of drinks that I have never thought of and that, for me, opened my eyes to Polsky's talent as an individual.”

Polsky on where he draws inspiration from: “I draw inspiration from my friends in the industry who impressively execute challenging concepts, rock ’n’ roll concerts, Chef's Table, and my bartenders. Every day I try to be a better manager for them than I was the day before. It's hard.”


Philip Cenac

Colleen Quarls

Age: 27
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Turkey and the Wolf
Location: New Orleans, LA
Instagram: @cquarls

From her nomination: “Colleen is a true badass. She was chosen as the chef de cuisine at Turkey and the Wolf two years before the restaurant even opened. She undoubtedly has been a strong force in its success.”

From Eater’s Bill Addison: “New Orleans is a city famous for its sandwich culture, and Turkey and the Wolf has moved the needle in eccentric, irresistible new directions. Quarls’s resume includes stints at local luminaries like Coquette and Donald Link’s Cochon. In her current position, she assembles dizzying combinations such as meatloaf on white bread bombarded with gravy mayo, pepper jelly, American cheese, dill pickles, and “shrettuce” (the restaurant’s signature portmanteau).”


Marvin Shaouni Photography

Lena Sareini

Age: 24
Position: Pastry Chef
Restaurant: Selden Standard
Location: Detroit, MI
Instagram: @lenapatissier

Sareini on what she does to hone her craft: “I am constantly researching and reading up on anything I can get my hands on. The beauty about this industry is the ongoing learning curve. There is always going to be something out there you don't know about. Find something that piques your interest and master it.”

Sareini on her dream job as a kid: “Shockingly, my dream job as a child was to be an astronaut. And funny enough, a cook at Selden recently told me that my desserts resemble tiny planets that she would love to live on.”


Nicole Medrano

Age: 25
Position: Executive Sous Chef
Restaurant: Seafood Revolution
Location: Ridgeland, MS
Instagram: @Nicoley_773

Medrano on who had the biggest influence on her career: “My five brothers and two sisters were had the biggest influence on my career. I wanted to show them that no matter where you come from, you are in charge of where you end up in life. I wanted them to know if you work hard enough have the dedication, no one can stop you from being what you want to be.”

Medrano on her favorite food scene in a movie: “My favorite food scene in a movie is the dinner rush in Burnt. I try very hard to explain to my husband why I can't answer a text message between the hours of 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Or why I have to work late. I think that scene hit it spot-on and I pulled it up on YouTube to show him how dinner service works. Now I don't receive a text message until 9:15 p.m.”


Jeffrey Morgan

Jarrett Stieber

Age: 28
Position: Chef-Owner
Restaurant: Eat Me Speak Me
Location: Atlanta, GA
Instagram: @eatmespeakme

Stieber on his least favorite food trends: “Fermenting beautiful fresh product that doesn't need preserving, puffing stuff by adding industrial powders to things, burning the shit out of stuff on purpose, and when restaurants list farms they source from on their menu when they don't consistently or actually order locally.”

Stieber on breakfast: “Breakfast is for people with office jobs.”


Farrah Skeiky

Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien

Age: 25 and 29
Position: Beverage Director and Co-owner; Executive Chef and Co-owner
Restaurant: Himitsu
Location: Washington, D.C.
Instagram: @kevtien and @kissanddrink

From Eater’s Warren Rojas: “Himitsu co-founders Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien are blowing D.C. diners’ minds, luring adventurous eaters and seasoned media professionals alike to red-hot Petworth for food that freely caroms between modern American cooking and reimagined Asian cuisine. Tien, an alum of Michelin-starred, fantasy dining destination Pineapple and Pearls, was included in the first ballot of Rising Star Chef of the Year nominees for the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. Barmini vet Steiner helps spruce up others’ cocktail programs via Stir Bartending Co., the consulting firm she started a few years back.”

Tien on the best career advice he’s received: “Just cook as you would if you were cooking for your family and family.”

Steiner on the biggest challenge she has faced: “My age. I've always been younger than my peers and I have always been considered young by society for my occupation. The truth is that I started working when I was 12 and never stopped. I'm young as a restaurant owner because I was young when I started working.”


Scott Suchman

Lou Sumpter

Age: 27
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Woodberry Kitchen
Location: Baltimore, MD
Instagram: @lou_sumpter

Bill Addison on how Woodberry Kitchen has changed over the years: “It's not news that food critics swipe menus, but when a meal makes an impression I tend to save the pieces of paper that I shove folded and crumpled into my pockets. I found a menu from my previous meal at Woodberry, during Christmas vacation in 2009, when it was easier to book a same-week reservation at a decent time. I held the old menu up alongside the new one. The differences were obvious. From 2009, the list of dishes boasted global inspirations: fried rice with shiitake mushrooms and egg, poutine, sizzling shrimp, pork loin with buckwheat crepes, roasted vegetables with polenta. In 2014, many more options directly reference Maryland heritage: oyster stew, chicken and biscuits, crab cakes with tartar sauce, rockfish in several preparations. There are nods to Baltimore's longstanding immigrant communities, including roasted kielbasa with potato salad and Greek salad.”

Sumpter on what he does to hone his craft: “The menu changes every day at Woodberry. It’s always a challenge for me and the team to be creative and cook in the moment, with what the farmers and watermen are providing for us. Also, keeping knives sharp and stations clean no matter what.”


Braydon Sutherland

Age: 27
Position: Sous Chef
Restaurant: FIG
Location: Charleston, SC
Instagram: @braydontgs

Sutherland on his industry horror story: “When I was at SNOB, I accidentally ground all of the heritage pork hams into sausage — instead of using pork butt — resulting in a very expensive mistake. I worked two weeks off the clock out of remorse. To add insult to injury, I managed to cut the tip of my finger off that same day. Pretty sure I went home and cried.”


The Alinea Group

Edgar Tinoco

Age: 26
Position: Chef de Cuisine
Restaurant: Next
Location: Chicago, IL
Instagram: @bornburgundy

From his nominations: “He is a rare breed of chef that is incredibly driven, committed to excellence and understanding, and able to communicate positively and constructively.

“Ed Tinoco is the beating heart of Next's kitchen. He and Jenner Tomaska work hand in hand conceptualizing and executing the dozens of unique dishes they produce very year, then he personally stands on the line and ensures the quality of every plate going out to guests. His drive for quality is considerable, and when coupled with his passion for his work, it becomes a true sight to behold.”

Tinoco on his industry horror story: “My first Sunday night as chef de cuisine of Next. The power went out in the middle of a busy service, and we had to cook everything with our phones strapped to our heads until we finally had to call it a night.”


Skandia Shafer

Yael Vengroff

Age: 29
Position: Bar Director
Restaurant: The Spare Room
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Instagram: @spareroomhwood

From 2015 Young Gun winner Micah Melton: “She's one of the fastest bartenders, like, anywhere. That girl is unbelievably fast. Every time I see her bartend, she makes me like look at myself and get kinda disappointed in myself. And the Spare Room — I'd been there a few times before she took over, and the space is really cool. I always had a fun time, but the drinks have gotten just immensely better since she's taken over, not to mention the service overall.”


Michelle Wong

Age: 25
Position: Head of National Direct-to-Chef Sales
Company: Island Creek Oysters
Location: Boston, MA
Instagram: @wongsauce

From her nomination: “The ICO Oysteresses are the women behind Island Creek Oysters. Though farm owner Skip Bennett has always hired females to work on his farm crew, these ladies run the farm’s 600-chef-strong direct-to-chef program, which provides salty bivalves from Duxbury Bay directly to the kitchens of notable chefs such as Renee Erickson, Paul Kahan, Thomas Keller, Jonathan Benno, and many more across the country. As a team, they work to bring the gospel of oysters and aquaculture to the masses. Michelle has worked on the team for going on four years, but grew up just miles from Skip's farm. Selling oysters isn't just a passion for her — it's in her blood.”

Wong on her first job in the industry: “Dishwasher and fish monger at our small hometown fish market.”


Giant Robot Media

Jon Yao

Age: 25
Position: Chef-Owner
Restaurant: Kato
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Instagram: @jonyao

Yao on what he does to hone his craft: “At the end of the day I dissect my mistakes and try my best to learn from them. I actively have my team at Kato do this; we have open dialogues about our weak points and work as a team to fix them. I try to maintain a strong work ethic and a constant sense of curiosity as well.”

Yao on where he draws inspiration from: “Childhood memories. Whenever I eat with my family, too. I like revisiting flavors that are nostalgic for me.”


Reporting: Nicole Bae
Editors: Nicole Bae, Sonia Chopra, Katie Abbondanza
Special thanks to: Emma Alpern, Esra Erol
The responses have been edited for clarity.

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