Every year, Eater editors seek out the best and the brightest new restaurant industry talent to induct into this year’s class of Eater Young Guns. Our goal is to identify restaurant and bar world newcomers (Young Guns must be under 30 or in the industry for under five years) who are sure to be future stars and leaders in their fields.
After collecting public nominations, we get input from seasoned chefs and restaurateurs. We spend countless hours and days reading recommendations and interviews, reaching out to references, and, yes, going to restaurants. And every year, we end up with a team of truly incredible individuals committed to great food, groundbreaking beverage programs, and outstanding service.
Now, the sixth annual search is over. Last month, readers met our stellar class of semifinalists. Today we have the final 2017 winners.
This year’s class includes talented chefs, bar managers, and front-of-house directors — along with a pitmaster and a tea evangelist. These winners are forward-thinking and deeply devoted to their craft. They’re going to keep growing, inspiring, and challenging others, and we’re excited to watch the industry change as they blaze new trails.
Get ready to read and hear a lot more from this crew. Without further ado, please say hello to this year’s Eater Young Guns.
Creative director of operations, Salare and Junebaby
When Suzi An started her career, she knew that she loved food and hated desk jobs, but she needed to figure the rest out. She started out as a server and publicist, but her role has grown to include creative direction, team management, and even wine buying, which she offered to take on when she saw the need at Salare. “It’s hard to say what an average day looks like for me, and I think I like it that way.”
Trigg Brown and Josh Ku
Chef/partner and managing partner, Win Son
New York, NY
28-year-old Trigg Brown and 29-year-old Josh Ku are introducing Taiwanese cuisine through Win Son, their restaurant in East Williamsburg. They understand the implications that come with running a Taiwanese restaurant as two Americans who didn’t go through formal training. But Brown and Ku work hard to understand and learn everything about the complexities that come with the cuisine, and hope to educate others — in small, bite-sized pieces — as well.
General manager, Twitter Corporate Cafe
New York, NY
“If you told me a few years ago I’d be working for a corporate dining company I would never have believed you,” Amelia Ekus says. “My perception was food coming out of bags, microwaved, and lunch lady-ed onto a tray. I was definitely a bit of an elitist about it.” Now she’s serving 350 people free breakfast and lunch, five days a week, at one of the top tech companies in the country.
Chef and owner, Royal Sushi and Izakaya
Jesse Ito has known some of his regulars his entire life. This 28-year-old sushi chef essentially grew up at Fuji, the Japanese restaurant his parents owned in the South Jersey suburbs: When his parents couldn’t find a babysitter, they brought him along. He started working there as a dishwasher and prep cook at 14 and, three years later, moved behind the sushi bar to learn from his father Masaharu, a respected chef. The diners who pulled up stools every week watched him grow up. Now they’re watching him change the way Philadelphia does sushi.
Director of operations; La Vara, Txikito, El Quinto Pino, and Tekoá
New York, NY
Before she became general manager at the city’s best Spanish spot, Kim LeVine had little more than a year’s worth of experience working at an actual restaurant, and she hadn’t spent a single day at any culinary or hospitality management school. Her degree from Boston University is in neuroscience. And to be fully accurate, she only ended up holding that general manager job, a position some hold onto for life, for 17 months. After that, she was promoted to director of operations for all four of Alex Raij and Eder Montero’s acclaimed Iberian establishments — so basically, she’s now the running a small restaurant empire.
Pitmaster, Two Bros BBQ Market
San Antonio, TX
Barbecue wasn't in Laura Loomis's plan — she didn't really have a set plan — but now it's her life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She just happened to work at a casual barbecue joint and thought, why not see where this goes? Now, she’s the sole pitmaster at Two Bros BBQ Market, self-taught through Internet searches, online barbecue forums, books, and videos. “I was just trying to figure out what was good barbecue and what was not.”
Founder and tea master, Eli Tea
Elias Majid takes his role as tea evangelist seriously. “We're the ones that have to educate the customers and get them on the right track,” he says. “I think food businesses do more than a doctor might on an everyday level.” In Detroit, Majid’s mission feels particularly profound. “Michigan has one of the highest obesity rates, but here we are,” he notes. The botanist-turned-tea purveyor continues to blend all of the tea at his cozy shop Eli Tea Bar himself, managing to blend his emphasis on health with a focus on his local community.
Pastry chef, Senia
There are drawbacks to being part of a massively hyped new restaurant like Honolulu's Senia. Pastry chef Mimi Mendoza says that much of the national coverage frames Senia as the place that’s bringing serious fine dining to Hawaii. That's not accurate: fine dining was already on the islands, of course. “I know so many people in the industry here, and they're all super talented." If anything, she says, since Senia has "turned the heads of all the mainlanders," she hopes the restaurant shows cooks in Hawaii that there's a reason to stay.
Los Angeles, CA
Debbie Michail has been on a path to rediscover her heritage while opening new culinary doors in and around Los Angeles. It helps that she has spent time in some of the city’s most important kitchens, working next to names like Nancy Silverton and Gino Angelini, but the heart of what Michail is doing is very, very personal. “Eating is an experience. I’m in the service industry, which makes me a servant to anyone who eats my food. And I take that very seriously, because if not, why do it?”
Executive chef and co-owner, Timber
All Daniela Moreira has to work with at Timber Pizza is a wood-fired oven. Well, that and a handful of ingredients. It’s a challenge that Moreira faces every day at Timber in the Petworth neighborhood of D.C., where she serves as executive chef. But it’s a challenge that Moreira accepts with open arms: figuring out how to cook something amazing with minimal materials is all just part of the thrill. “I always like a challenge, and I’ve always been very, very competitive," she says. "Especially when it comes to pizza."
Chef and owner, Hanbun
When Dave Park and Jennifer Tran opened Hanbun in a nondescript Asian food court in the Chicago suburbs in December 2015, hardly anyone knew about it. And even if someone did know about the Korean food counter out in Westmont, they probably weren’t able to find it. But now, 14 months and a seemingly endless stream of exalting reviews later, every food obsessive in the Chicago area knows Hanbun’s name.
Charly Pierre and Minerva Chereches
Head chef and director of operations, Fritai
New Orleans, LA
Co-owners Eva Chereches and Charly Pierre's exploration of Haitian cuisine is also an exploration into the couple’s roots. Chereches and Pierre want their restaurant to fit into and expand upon the food narrative in New Orleans, rather than change it. They also want their restaurant to belong and contribute to the New Orleans community, which means hiring locals in need and making sure that New Orleanians that live near Fritai can afford to eat there.
Bar manager, Harvard & Stone
Los Angeles, CA
What Aaron Polsky believes makes Harvard & Stone the best bar out there is that the innovation, technique, and technology happen behind the scenes; they don’t make a show of it. What the guests experience is simply a $5 happy hour tequila grapefruit mule — a drink they love that gets in their hands fast. It’s the quick but well-crafted cocktails that are key to making guests happy. “And it makes shifts better for the bartenders because they’re able to give people something very good, very quickly."
Chef de cuisine, Turkey and the Wolf
New Orleans, LA
Colleen Quarls is Turkey and the Wolf’s kitchen general — a short-order cook long on talent, and a chief conspirator in the uniquely quirky menu. We’re talking constructs like fried bologna on white, blazed with hot mustard and crowned with a handful of potato chips; or a collard-green melt electroshocked with pepper dressing and pickled cherries. They sound wacky, but their meticulous assembly (the Quarls touch) reveals an uncanny elegance. And the zigzagging flavors come together in remarkable ways.
Chef de cuisine, Woodberry Kitchen
In 2012, Lou Sumpter entered Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore’s fanatically local gamechanger of a restaurant, as a stage. He was 22 and had no formal culinary education, but did have a few years of experience cooking at pizza places around Charm City. Sumpter knew he wanted to be in a serious kitchen, and was drawn to the idea of working with a wood-fired oven. For him that meant Woodberry. And he hasn’t left yet.
Editors: Katie Abbondanza and Sonia Chopra
Producer: Nicole Bae
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
Special thanks: Dani Balenson, Mary Hough, Amanda Kludt, Amelia McGuinness, Adam Moussa, Carrie Ruby, Sarah Weldon