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Patricia Chang

Eater Young Guns 2018: Meet the Semifinalists

Get to know the best new restaurant talent in the industry

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Every year, Eater kicks off a quest to recognize and honor the best new talent in the restaurant industry. Eater Young Guns highlights front- and back-of-house rising stars who are early in their careers but already exhibit the drive, ambition, thought, and care necessary to take on the restaurant world. The criteria is simple: Young Guns must be under 30 or have less than five years of experience in the industry. They all work hard and excel in their field, have gained deep respect from their peers, and hope to change the restaurant world for the better.

Narrowing the nominees to a list of 50 semifinalists is never an easy task: In 2018, Eater received 2,054 entries for 623 nominees across the United States. One hundred and forty head chefs received nominations, 36 came in for general managers, and 16 went to sommeliers. A “secretary of carrots” and a “head alchemist” each received a nomination; nine nominations were submitted by someone’s boss, and 22 referred to a nominee as “a boss.”

Once nominations closed, we pored over submissions and reached out to the nominees themselves to learn more about how they see their careers and their place in the restaurant industry. From all across the country, Eater editors, past Young Guns winners, and a stellar judging committee of industry leaders provided insight into their communities and these nominations. Eventually, the list was whittled to 50 semifinalists (54 total, including four teams of two), and next month 2018’s Eater Young Guns will be announced.

These 50 semifinalists represent the best of the restaurant world. They are leaders and trailblazers who are running strong kitchens; crafting excellent, innovative bar menus; and cultivating the impeccable dining experiences out there — and they’re doing it with a focus on culture, community, and mentorship. They will continue to push to make themselves, their businesses, and the restaurant world better. They are names you are going to want to know, so please join us in congratulating them.

Grilled shrimp in chermoula sauce at D.C.’s Maydan.
Rey Lopez

Ephrem Abebe, 29, and Steve Chu, 27, are the general manager and chef, respectively, and co-owners of Ekiben in Baltimore, a fast-casual spot serving steamed buns and rice bowls. The team got its start at the Fells’ Point Farmers Market before opening a brick-and-mortar location in the same neighborhood. “Ekiben’s mission has always been to make Baltimoreans happy, one bun at a time,” says Chu. And his day to day? “Wake up, make buns, mentor youth, live the dream.”

Gerald Addison, 29, is the co-executive chef of restaurants Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., where he and co-executive chef Chris Morgan “solve every problem imaginable.” At Maydan, the highly lauded new hotspot, Addison is “excited to take on the challenge of global flavors and a live-fire hearth.” He grew up in D.C. and never thought he’d want to cook in the city, but now he’s excited to be a part of a flourishing community. “I hope the industry continues to grow and get better,” he says. “The quality of restaurants in D.C. now compared to 15 years ago is like night and day.”

Danny Alas, 28, and Justin Rodriguez, 29, run the kitchen at Paloma Cafe in New Orleans. The two are widely recognized for helping to pioneer the Latin food scene and build the LGBTQIA community in the city — they moved to New Orleans together to help open Nina Compton’s Compère Lapin and stuck together to open their own place. At Paloma, they’re committed to developing job opportunities for people of all backgrounds and orientations and “hope to spread the culture of respect and acceptance in the restaurant industry” and to “bring about change in an industry that often undermines the talent, tenacity, and grit of marginalized communities.”

Francesco Allegro, 29, is the sfoligno at Los Angeles stunner Rossoblu, where he uses just a rolling pin to make pasta for 300 covers a night. Born and raised in Canosa di Puglia, he hopes to turn to ancient grains “to introduce new pasta consistencies and flavor combinations for pasta to the city of Los Angeles.”

Sumi Ali, 27, roasts coffee at Yes Plz, where he is a co-founder. He’s translated his long history of coffee jobs — from Atlanta to Los Angeles and from barista to consultant — into the direct-to-consumer company that hopes to “push the culinary limits of coffee roasting” and bring the best coffee available into people’s homes. In Yes Plz’s first iteration, the company sold $1 cups of coffee at Roy Choi’s socially conscious restaurant Locol. Now, with the new subscription model, Ali and co-founder Tony Konecny hope to break down the exclusionary barrier of entry to good coffee. As Ali puts it: “I hope we can start to close the gap between the hyper-niche coffee stuff that often turns people off and the second-rate coffee that’s still in most people’s homes.”

Crullers at NYC’s Daily Provisions.
Daniel Krieger

Daniel Alvarez, 29, began working in his family’s restaurant at age 13, when he thought he would go down the savory chef route. Instead, he turned to sweets, working at famed restaurant Jean-Georges and pastry icon Dominique Ansel (before and during the Cronut craze), before becoming the pastry chef at Daily Provisions and Union Square Cafe, both part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York City. Alvarez is responsible for baking and pastry at the two restaurants, which means he spends half his days up at 5 a.m. to proof breads and the other half on the the closing shift, often working the line for dessert service.

Gabe Barker, 29, left North Carolina for San Francisco “to pursue an informal culinary education.” He spent the next three years at SF pizza classic Delfina, before moving back to Carrboro, North Carolina, to open Pizzeria Mercato with his parents. Says Young Guns committee member and famed local chef Ashley Christensen, “I love his project, and his approach to celebrating the nearby Carrboro farmers market. He’s created a really neat community spot serving pizza and really badass shared plates in a comfortably vibrant space.”

Annie Beebe-Tron, 28, is pushing for the second cocktail revolution. Just two years into her hospitality career, the beverage director and front-of-house manager of Chicago’s Fat Rice and the Ladies’ Room leads an all-female team, aims to reduce waste and increase sustainability, and tries to “create spaces that are joyful, inclusive, and warm” in addition to putting out one of the most forward-thinking drinks menus in the city.

Niels Brisbane, 27, is the culinary director of Canlis Research Kitchen at the Bread Lab, which means that as part of the Washington State University lab, he will “aid in the redesigning of the Northwest foodshed into a model for community-based cuisine. Working with plant breeders, farmers, processors, restaurants, and consumers, I will facilitate the relationships essential to the development of thoughtful food products that are becoming the hallmark of the Northwest.” Formerly the baker at acclaimed fine dining Seattle restaurant Canlis, he’s focused his attention to the local foodshed, helping to build relationships across the region. As he says, “I want to be part of strengthening the way the Northwest grows, processes, and utilizes its products and work toward building a foodshed model that can be simulated across the country for positive change.”

Alexis Brown, 28, has a vision for the hospitality industry. “I feel a duty to challenge the current climate of diversity and inclusion throughout our industry by educating and empowering new leaders to perfect their craft, while creating welcoming and memorable experiences for guests,” she says. In addition to crafting cocktails at the Drifter in Chicago, she is the co-founder and director of Causing a Stir, an organization providing “accessible educational and career development opportunities for underserved and underrepresented communities in the hospitality industry.”

The bar at Walnut Street Cafe in Philadelphia.
Justin Blasi

Alexana Cabrera, 21, and Cassie Ramsey, 27, are the the chef de partie and the sous chef, respectively, of the 12-seat Mixtli in San Antonio, where the four employees do everything from cook to serve to wash dishes. (As Eater critic Bill Addison says, Mixtli is “arguably the most avant-garde restaurant experience in Texas, but the modernistic, academic cooking also delivers ample poignancy and pleasure.”) Given the space and the fact that the menu changes every 45 days, Ramsey says it’s a job that calls for “finesse and efficiency.”

Julieta Campos, 28, is the bar manager at the Whistler, the part-bar, part-art gallery, part-record label venue in Chicago’s Logan Square that’s known for its live music and its smart list of cocktails. With past experience at places like the Aviary — widely known as one of the best bars in the country, if not the world — and by drawing inspiration from the artists that frequent the Whistler, Campos focuses on “using uncommon ingredients to produce unique and accessible drinks for the general public.” Her current responsibilities range from sourcing ingredients and creating menus to working the bar and staff training; in the future, she hopes to open a bar that creates spaces for queer women and wants the industry as a whole to think more about “creating and changing drinking culture rather than fads.”

Kaitlyn Caruke, 29, moved to Philadelphia from New York when her bosses at Michelin-starred Rebelle in NYC offered her the chance to create her own wine list at their new restaurant. A year later, in the summer of 2017, the highly anticipated Walnut Street Cafe opened in Philly with a wine program developed by Caruke as head sommelier. She loves wine and the “infinite possibilities” it opens up for her future.

Valerie Chang, 26, grew up in Peru and moved to the United States when she was 10, where she spent her childhood watching her dad cook at a sushi restaurant. After a few kitchen stints of her own — including at Michael Solomonov’s Miami location of Dizengoff, where she was able to incorporate some Peruvian touches into the mostly Israeli menu — she’s now the chef at family restaurant Itamae, where she cooks a Nikkei-inspired menu of Japanese-Peruvian dishes.

Katie Cruz, 26, got her start as a barback in Reno, and now she’s the director of operations — focusing on bar development and management from maintenance requests and stocking well liqueurs to scheduling and hiring — at Atomic Liquors, the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas. She maintains her connections to the cocktail culture she loves through attending and hosting educational seminars and participating in cocktail competitions.

The dining room at San Francisco restaurant Mister Jiu’s.
Patricia Chang

Nico de Leon, 29, hustles. Before LASA opened, he was working in San Francisco and driving down to LA every weekend for the restaurant’s Sunday-night pop-ups. Now, he’s moved to Los Angeles full time and is the sous chef at the Filipino restaurant, where he helps with recipe, dish, and culture development and is eager to connect to his roots, represent his community, and expose Filipino food to the masses.

Eric Ehler, 29, made headlines when he died and was resuscitated after a shift at the Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s this winter. The sous chef calls his long days at the restaurant, working from 11 a.m. to midnight, “pretty basic,” but the San Francisco community showed a huge outpouring of support as he recovered this year. Up next for him is a much-anticipated dim sum lounge above Mister Jiu’s. As for the future of the industry? “I just want the lives of restaurant folk to be better,” he says. “We cannot keep working the way that we are working. It needs to change.”

DeVonn Francis, 25, is the chef and founder of Yardy, a food-focused events company that “creates a platform for black and brown people — especially those of the West Indian diaspora — to express their love of cooking and claim space in New York’s food scene.” Francis spends his days menu writing, recipe testing, researching future collaborations, searching the markets for produce, and considering design elements for his events.

Robert Giles, 28, is the managing partner of Brooklyn bar Until Tomorrow, where he does everything from prep and inventory to R&D for new drinks on one of the most innovative bar menus in New York. Giles — a born-and-bred Brooklyn native — also consults on the bar menu at nearby restaurant Wheated, known for its excellent whiskey list and cocktails, and hopes to continue to open bars using sustainable systems that set teams up for success.

Chantel Gillis, 29, is the executive chef at vegetarian cafe and juice bar Anar in Seattle, where she gets in every day at 4:45 a.m. to juice and prep for the day, often working in silence until her staff arrives hours later. Gillis, who grew up in Germany and started her career with a stage that launched into a seven-year stint at Tamara Murphy’s seasonal and local-focused Terra Plata, is committed to championing a healthy lifestyle and encouraging diners in the Pacific Northwest to eat accordingly. She plans to one day own a fleet of food trucks, including one that serves German comfort food with a health-minded twist.

A meal at Mala Project in New York.
Anthony Bui

Ashley Ginsberg, 28, oversees the pastry programs at eight Austin restaurants, including local favorite Elizabeth Street Cafe, where she worked for two years before being promoted as the restaurant group’s executive pastry chef. Now, she spends her days going between all eight kitchens, leading the internal pastry teams and focusing on menu development.

Nora Granger, 28, works the door at iconic Charleston restaurant FIG. But when she’s not there, she’s running things at Counter Cheese Caves — the local cheese-distribution company she created with co-owner Eric Casella that’s focused on representing small Southeastern and American makers and cheeses to restaurants and consumers in the city. She’s growing her business through wholesale orders and developing cheese boards for restaurants, as well as by selling cheeses at farmers markets and via a weekly funky-cheese share. Granger hopes that her company will become the “primary cheese resource” in the region.

Chelsea Gregoire, 27, is “a leader in education, mentorship, and management,” according to Eater Young Guns committee member and Ida B’s chef David Thomas — and she also makes some very good drinks. The Baltimore-based beverage expert is the bar manager of Hotel Revival and the owner of Drinkable Genius, her beverage and social media consulting firm. She is studying to become a cicerone and sommelier, and she already holds a master’s degree in theology, which she says “has helped her to understand human beings and our innate need for belonging and connection.” Gregoire hopes she can keep acting as a mentor and advocate for women and LGBTQIA professionals, and that education, community, and advocacy will continue to be a focus for beverage world.

Alex Green, 28, is the chef de cuisine at Hog & Hominy in Memphis, where he blends “his Southern upbringing with his love of Italian food” to create dishes like ’nduja cornbread with sour sorghum butter. In 2016, Green helped James Beard-nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman open their acclaimed New Orleans restaurant Josephine Estelle. Now, he’s putting his mark on Hog & Hominy, and he hopes to open a farm of his own, focused on growing vegetables that chefs are looking for and creating educational plans for school groups and college classes to show them how “permaculture and creating small ecosystems can change how our world eats.”

Jocelyn Havel, 28, is one of the lucky ones: She was able to leverage her graduate degree in chemistry and her love of beer into a career she’s passionate about. As the quality supervisor of Bay Area brewery 21st Amendment, she oversees the quality control for every beer that leaves the warehouse — from monitoring the progress of fermentations and managing the yeast to performing chemical analysis to determine bitterness, alcohol percentage, and gravity.

The bar at Majordomo in LA.
Bill Addison

Sarah Heard, 29, has been cooking in Austin for 13 years and is now the co-chef and co-owner of Foreign & Domestic, which she and her business partner (themselves alums of the restaurant) purchased from the previous owner in 2017. Her day-to-day runs the gamut from watering the restaurant’s garden to working the pass in addition to management duties, and at home she raises chickens and goats. Justin Yu, chef of praised Houston restaurant Theodore Rex and Eater Young Guns committee member, calls her “supremely talented and such a great thinker.”

Becca Hegarty, 28, is the chef-owner of Pittsburgh’s Bitter Ends Garden Luncheonette, a 10-seat breakfast and lunch counter that serves the vegetables they cultivate on an acre of land and which she opened for under $20,000 in late 2017. “We’re a farm with a lunch counter,” Hegarty says; the two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award wakes up at 3 a.m. to shape baguettes and cut doughnuts, which she later tops with inventive finishes, like bronze fennel and mint oat dust. As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer (and former Eater editor) Melissa McCart says, Becca “pairs her pastry chef skill and her passion for farming esoteric vegetables (chicories, rutabaga) on the menu for her quirky new restaurant she opened in the fall.”

Alexander Henry, 28, first became interested in cooking when he visited his family in Merida, in Mexico. Now the chef de cuisine at Nixta in his hometown of St. Louis, Henry says he hopes “to help change many of the preconceptions diners have about what Mexican cuisine should be.” At Nixta, he creates a heavily Mexican-inspired menu pulling from his background in traditional Mexican cooking and influences from Yucatan and Mayan traditions, all while using seasonal, local Midwestern ingredients. “I want to continue to push both sustainability and the boundaries of what Midwestern diners are willing to eat,” the chef says.

Joseph Johnson, 29, is the chef de cuisine at Charcoal Venice. After culinary school, he took a job at Josiah Citrin’s Santa Monica restaurant Mélisse as garde manger, and was soon promoted to sous chef. When Citrin opened Charcoal Venice at the end of 2015, Johnson was promoted into a new role there, and he now helms a kitchen centered around live-fire cooking. It’s not just meat, either — “the best dish in the restaurant may be the wedge cut from a whole cabbage roasted on the coals, outside leaves burnt and crumbling, inside steamy and sweet,” LA critic Jonathan Gold writes in a review. “The cabbage is served with tart yogurt and sumac, but the overall effect still manages to be more Mitteleuropa than Middle East, its char and wine-like complexity alluding to something like a Romani campfire dish best enjoyed in the bitter cold.”

Laura Johnson, 26, opened her distillery, You & Yours, in March 2017. With two gins and a vodka in distribution, plus a tasting room and event space complete with cocktail offerings, Johnson spends her days making sure all of the moving parts keep operating smoothly, from production to sales. She plans to expand the company in all ways: more distillery locations, more products, and a presence across the world.

Pastries at NYC cafe Studio.
Anthony Bui

Amelie Kang, 26, is the co-founder and president of a budding restaurant empire, which includes two locations of the dry pot-focused Mala Project in New York’s East Village and Bryant Park, as well as the homestyle Chinese takeout spot Tomorrow. Kang, who was raised in Beijing, focuses her energy on her food and on creating a space where her employees can grow.

Kate Kavanaugh, 29, opened Western Daughters Butcher Shop in Denver with her partner, Josh Curtiss, five years ago, focusing on grass-fed and pasture-raised meats. Now, as CEO, she runs a “holistic and vertically integrated business built on the idea that good food should be a byproduct of conservation,” which means that she teaches butchery classes, guest-lectures at universities, and underwrites legislation that helps small farmers and ranchers in Colorado, along with running her business — from thinking about growth projections, production, and social media to visiting farms and working the floor.

Zoe Kanan, 28, runs the bakery program at New York’s Freehand Hotel, which includes all-day cafe Studio and restaurant Simon and the Whale. Her boundary-pushing baked goods — from babka to black bread — are lauded as some of the best in New York, and her mentors include local pastry forces Christina Tosi and Melissa Weller.

Christine Larroucau, 28, is general manager of Majordomo, one of the country’s biggest openings of the year. Eater LA editor Farley Elliott calls her a “front-of-house wizard,” saying, “It’s the hardest table to get in Los Angeles at the moment, and she oversees it all.” Prior to joining the Momofuku team in 2017, she was the general manager of Pizzeria Mozza.

Monica Leon, 27, grew up in a restaurant family but ran a food blog in New York before moving to Florida and opening a food truck of her own, Caja Caliente, which serves Cuban tacos, tamales, and more in Miami’s Wynwood district. Leon is passionate about Cuban food and her family’s culinary history; she hopes to showcase these food traditions in restaurant locations across the country. Her second location, a brick-and-mortar in Coral Gables, is set to open in the fall.

Watch: Tehina milkshakes, falafel, and fries at Philly’s Goldie.

Caitlin McMillan, 29, was once considered her own special-forces operation — Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook would send her in to help out on any projects that needed to get back on track. She got her start in the restaurant group as a line cook at iconic restaurant Zahav in 2014 and has since been the opening sous chef for a number of CookNSolo restaurants, including the first Dizengoff. McMillan is currently the executive chef of Philadelphia’s Goldie, the fast-casual vegan and kosher restaurant known for its standout falafel and tehina shakes.

Shota Nakajima, 28, is the chef and owner of Adana, his Seattle restaurant with a menu inspired by Japanese home cooking. In early 2017, Nakajima shifted his restaurant concept slightly from a high-end kaiseki format to the new three-course menu offering homestyle cooking, in part because he wanted to offer something less “exclusive” where more diners could become regulars. He reached his goal of opening his first restaurant at 25 and is now working daily to continue to grow as a leader for his team.

Anya Peters, 21, is the chef and creator of Kit an’ Kin, a Brooklyn-based pop-up that celebrates her Caribbean heritage. “I want food to be recognized and treated holistically,” she says. And when she thinks about the future of the restaurant industry, she hopes “it gives platforms and freely allows voices from those who are systemically oppressed or without access to share their beautiful culture in mainstream media or acclaimed restaurants that sometimes fail to address or respect where they source their inspiration from.” In addition to creating memorable dinners, the recent CIA graduate also works at event catering company Harvest and Revel.

Sahil Rahman, 27, and Rahul Vinod, 28, were both born into the restaurant business, but took jobs in finance in New York before moving back home to the D.C. area to open RASA, a fast-casual restaurant that offers a menu of set and build-your-own bowls inspired by Rahman’s and Vinod’s Indian backgrounds. In D.C.’s Navy Yard, the CEOs “aim to utilize good food and vibes as a vehicle for cross-cultural connection, community building, and positive social change” and “hope to continue to push people toward exploring new cultures, cuisines, and ideas.”

Riley Redfern, 28, is the pastry chef at tasting-menu-only restaurant Coi, in San Francisco, where her desserts helped lead the team to three Michelin stars this year. Her resume includes time at SF stalwarts Jardiniere and Quince, and she’s known for her emphasis on technique — she calls the mignardises program her “power zone.”

Inside D.C. restaurant Rasa.
Rey Lopez

He Ro, 25, had never seen an oyster before he took a job shucking them at Atlanta-area Kimball House, half a decade after he moved to the United States from Burma. Now, he’s shucked “maybe close to 1 million” in the five years since Kimball House opened and has made himself invaluable to the best oyster bar in the state.

Lena Sareini, 25, runs the bread and dessert programs at Detroit’s Selden Standard, where she’s the pastry chef. The restaurant aims to stay current and seasonal with its menus, so Sareini is not just the first one in to bake all the bread, but she’s also responsible for experimenting with and developing new recipes with an eye to local ingredients. She enjoys the “ongoing learning curve” that the restaurant industry provides, saying, “There is never an opportunity to get stuck or bored because there will always be something out there that is new to you, whether it’s an ingredient or a technique.” Her goal is to master as many of them as she can.

Daniella Senior, 29, became an entrepreneur as teenager, setting up a catering business from her home in the Dominican Republic. Now a certified sommelier working in Washington, D.C., she is also the president of Colada Shop (a casual spot for Cuban coffee, cocktails, and food, with two locations) and a partner at Bresca, a French-inspired spot with chef Ryan Ratino at the helm, which was recently named “best new restaurant” by Washington City Paper.

Csilla Thackray, 27, is the executive chef of the Vandal in Pittsburgh, where she creates a menu that reflects her Hungarian-Italian heritage, as well as her background in French fundamentals. In her kitchen, the team abandoned the brigade system and, she says, “We do not scream, touch inappropriately, demean, disrespect one another, or any of the other unfortunate realities of too many kitchen cultures.” Thackray is eager to see the Pittsburgh food scene reach its potential for growth and diversity and places a strong emphasis on creating a supportive culture in and outside of the Vandal.

Jordan Thomas, 29, is the pastry chef for McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, which means she’s in charge of the non-ice-cream sweets. For the company’s scoop shops and for the pints of ice cream it sells across the country, she makes cookies, churros, pies, all toppings, sauces, and more. She thinks a lot about how to make flavors work when people think they can’t be done, and how to scale up innovative, high-quality ice cream to a nationwide scale.

Kamayan feast at Boston’s Tanam.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Ellie Tiglao, 33, moved to Boston for her work as a neuroscientist, but it was her background in art and community organizing that led her to “creative space management” and her first restaurant pop-up in August 2014. Now, she’s the chef of a forthcoming Filipino-American restaurant called Tanám, which “focuses on ‘narrative cuisine,’ where food is an integral component of the historical, cultural, political and personal narratives presented, often in collaboration with artists.” She’s also a worker-owner at the Olio Culinary Collective, a cooperative “dedicated to sustainable sourcing, workplace fairness, and a celebration of food as culture.”

Thach N. Tran, 28, starts his days shopping at H-Mart and ends them with a beer. As executive chef of Denver’s Ace Eat Serve, he creates a menu of Southeast Asian-inspired dishes served in a casual bar known as the city’s only “dedicated Ping-Pong hall.” His goal is to one day become a culinary instructor to help train the next wave of chefs; his nomination read, “What’s most surprising at his young age is his ability to teach, which has allowed him to maintain a loyal and consistent kitchen staff during this BOH labor crisis.”

Judy Yao, 26, moved to the United States from Taiwan at 14 and considers — like many immigrants — food a connection to home. As a butcher’s apprentice at Savenor’s Butcher Shop in Boston, she breaks down whole animals, makes specialty products like sausages and stocks, consults with customers to make sure they have the right cuts for their recipes, and contributes to the conversation around bettering sourcing and accessibility efforts in the industry. She thinks often about how she can continue to use food to bridge the gaps between diverse communities.

Nite Yun, 35, didn’t get her start in the restaurant industry until four years ago, following some trips back to Cambodia to learn more about her culture. After she dropped out of nursing school, she went to the country to connect with her culture and learn how her parents escaped (she was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and raised in Stockton, California). Earlier this year she opened her first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Oakland with the help of SF-based food-business incubator La Cocina. Nyum Bai serves “homestyle” Cambodian cooking, and Yun hopes it can be a space where Oakland’s Cambodian community — first- and second-generation Cambodians and beyond — can learn about and connect with their culture and food.

Marco Zappia, 26, made a name for himself consulting on bar menus and openings across the country as a partner at Bittercube, and now he’s running the show as beverage director at Martina — and the soon-to-open Colita — in Minneapolis. His eventual goal is to build the best bar programs in the country, “designing new spaces and concepts while promoting healthy progressive culture.” Another dream? “To have a restaurant group where employees are partial owners in a cooperative that has profit sharing and “influence in the trajectory of the conglomerate.”

Finalists will be announced later in the summer.

Previous Eater Young Guns winners: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012

Editors: Katie Abbondanza, Sonia Chopra
Judging committee: Suzi An, Nyesha Arrington, Mashama Bailey, Ashley Christensen, Nina Compton, Kristen Essig, Michael Gallina, Tara Gallina, Spike Gjerde, Gerardo Gonzalez, Yoon Ha, Martha Hoover, Sarah Hymanson, Beverly Kim, Joe Kindred, Katy Kindred, Sarah Kramer, Mike Lata, Irene Li, Lisa Ludwinski, Micah Melton, Hugo Ortega, Dave Park, Janice Provost, Camila Ramos, Jordan Salcito, Marcus Samuelsson, Callie Speer, Bobby Stuckey, Caroline Styne, David Thomas, Tonya Thomas, Jamie Tran, Ellen Yin, Justin Yu
Special thanks: Amanda Kludt, Patty Diez, Hillary Dixler, Monica Burton, Esra Erol, Ellie Krupnick, Emma Alpern, and the Eater editorial staff