They may not be household names — yet. Eater’s annual class of Young Guns are the restaurant and dining professionals who, just a few years into their careers, are already changing the game in kitchens, cafes, bars, and communities across the country. Breathing new life into countless cuisines, rethinking dining experiences, and challenging expectations of what a restaurant should be, Young Guns are the innovators whose household-name status is just around the corner.
So who better to select this group of promising newcomers than current dining pros? Now that public nominations for 2018 Young Guns have closed, a panel of restaurant and hospitality industry vets is helping Eater pick the next class of up-and-coming industry talent.
Here is the 2018 Young Guns judging committee, in alphabetical order:
Suzi An, Seattle: Suzi An established herself as an all-around force as the creative director of Edouardo Jordan’s smash-hit Seattle restaurants, Salare and JuneBaby (the latter an Eater Awards winner). With an entrepreneurial drive and a creative vision, this 2017 Young Gun has since left to launch her own endeavor, a natural wine company called Vita Uva.
Nyesha Arrington, Los Angeles: This Top Chef competitor has become a national name for her buzzy Los Angeles establishments, including Leona and now Native, both of which — in true California form — boast eclectic menus that draw on culinary traditions around the globe, powered by fresh vegetables from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Mashama Bailey, Savannah: As the chef of Eater’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year, Mashama Bailey is familiar with the journey from anticipated newcomer to early hit to James Beard finalist. In a few short years, Bailey’s restaurant the Grey has turned the food world’s attention to Savannah and established her as one of the most exciting chefs not just in the South, but in the country.
Ashley Christensen, Raleigh: Ashley Christensen 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 the Chef of the Year on the Upsell here.
Nina Compton, New Orleans: It’s been a good year for Nina Compton: The Top Chef alum was nominated for the James Beard award for Best Chef: South the day before she opened the doors on her latest endeavor, Bywater American Bistro. The restaurant is Compton’s latest imprimatur on the New Orleans scene, where the Saint Lucia-born chef has established herself as a modern interpreter of the region’s diverse cuisine, particularly its Caribbean influences.
Matt Danzer and Ann Redding, New York City: The husband-and-wife team combined their backgrounds — he from the Long Island, she from Thailand and the Philippines, both with stints at Per Se — to bring innovative Thai food to downtown New York with Uncle Boons. The restaurant has since become an NYC essential, earning a Michelin star and its own takeout spinoff, Uncle Boons Sister.
Kristen Essig, New Orleans: With a recent James Beard nomination, Kristen Essig has launched from New Orleans — where she’s currently chef and partner at Coquette, with another endeavor, Thalia, set to launch this year — to the national stage as one of the country’s most prominent chefs. She’s also an outspoken voice against abuse and harassment, calling on the restaurant community to hold itself accountable and create positive work environments.
Michael and Tara Gallina, St. Louis: Michael and Tara Gallina not only met at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, they also hatched their own vegetable-inspired vision for a restaurant together. Now, just one year in, the couple is earning nationwide praise for Vicia, their “all-purpose” restaurant in St. Louis that takes a thoughtful approach to fresh produce in a modernist space.
Spike Gjerde, Baltimore: In the national conversation about local, sustainable food, Spike Gjerde has long been one of the most steadfast voices. The James Beard winner’s seven restaurants — from Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore to the newest, A Rake’s Progress in D.C. — have been experiments in establishing fully self-sustaining food systems that not only reflect but truly benefit the local regions they occupy.
Gerardo Gonzalez, New York City: When founding El Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette in 2013, Geraldo Gonzalez blended a vegetable-heavy California sensibility with Mexican flavors for a healthy(-ish) menu that paved the way for the many kale-filled, bowl-obsessed eateries that followed. With his latest space, solo all-day cafe Lalito, Gonzalez has remained a downtown NYC staple.
Yoon Ha, San Francisco: Master sommelier Yoon Ha came up through Napa Valley to Benu, a two-Michelin-starred San Francisco establishment. There, he’s built a reputation as an industry all-star for his inventive wine lists, which blend a lifelong knowledge of traditional Korean food with modern wine expertise.
Martha Hoover, Indianapolis: With 14 restaurants, a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthy meals to schoolchildren, and forthcoming women-focused coworking space the Box Office, Indianapolis chef and “empire builder” Martha Hoover is steadily killing it. Her restaurants — starting with Cafe Patachou, which opened in 1989 — emphasize food sourcing, sustainability, and community.
Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer, Los Angeles: After making a name in Brooklyn, Sara Kramer moved to Los Angeles with her co-chef Sarah Hymanson, where they quickly established themselves among the class of new chefs repping a distinctly Southern California vibe. With a daytime falafel spot and now a year-old restaurant, Kismet, these 2017 Chefs of the Year have applied the laid-back, health-conscious sensibility to an equally of-the-moment food tradition, Middle Eastern cuisine, for an irresistibly cool experience tourists and locals alike are flocking to.
Beverly Kim, Chicago: Beverly Kim’s innovative, technical-minded take on Korean-American food has earned her accolades on TV — she was a Top Chef finalist — and from the most esteemed critics. Parachute, the restaurant she co-founded, earned a Michelin star two years running and is a Chicago must-visit. Kim’s also making an impact beyond the kitchen, speaking out about the double standards and sexual harassment too many women in the industry face.
Joe and Katy Kindred, Charlotte: This power couple has made Charlotte — or, more specifically, small towns 20 miles outside of Charlotte — a Southern dining destination, thanks to their restaurants Kindred and the recently opened Hello, Sailor, each of which boast locally sourced dishes against an inviting backdrop of Instagram-ready interiors.
Mike Lata, Charleston: 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.
Irene Li, Boston: This 2016 Young Gun is the driving force behind Mei Mei, which grew from serving Chinese-American cuisine from a food truck to a restaurant to an eatery in a shipping container in Boston’s Seaport District. With each endeavor, Li’s focus has been on establishing and sustaining connections with local providers and using local ingredients, becoming a force and advocate in her Boston community.
Lisa Ludwinski, Detroit: This 2015 Young Gun has pastry lovers turning their attention to Detroit, where her bakery Sister Pie has earned her a devoted local fanbase as well as a national profile. With a much-followed Instagram and a highly anticipated cookbook debuting this year, Ludwinski is quickly joining the ranks of beloved baking personalities.
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 and sister spot to Grant Achatz’s fine dining stunner Alinea. Steering the Aviary is beverage director Micah Melton, a 2015 Eater Young Gun winner, who expanded his drinks program to New York last year.
Hugo Ortega, Houston: Hugo Ortega’s brought attention and renown — including a James Beard award — to Houston with his decades-long dedication to interior Mexican cuisine. His growing stable of Houston restaurants, including Hugo’s, Backstreet Cafe, and the much-hailed newcomer Xochi, celebrate fine Oaxacan cuisine with ingredients sourced directly from the region. His reputation for innovative Mexican cooking has carried over to an outpost in Los Angeles, Mi Almita, plus a growing collection of cookbooks.
Dave Park, Chicago: That chef Dave Park built a citywide reputation and a months-long reservation list for an after-hours, prix fixe tasting menu in a suburban strip mall is a testament to his cooking. Applying techniques learned from Michelin-starred chefs to Korean cuisine, this 2017 Young Gun’s Hanbun was a new perspective on Korean food.
Janice Provost, Dallas: As executive chef and chief proprietor of Parigi, Janice Provost has been a figure in the Dallas food scene for two decades, thanks not only to her French-style cooking but also to her commitment to the community, from mentorship for female chefs to Cafe Momentum, a nonprofit foundation she cofounded in 2011 that offers culinary training for juvenile offenders.
Camila Ramos, Miami: A 2014 Young Gun winner, Camila Ramos leapt from barista competitions to helming Miami icon Panther Coffee to establishing her own much-anticipated venture, All Day. Part coffee house and part restaurant, All Day is one of the first nationally relevant all-day cafes. It has cemented Ramos as a key player in today’s coffee scene.
Jordan Salcito, New York City: Jordan Salcito is a beverage director for the modern era, from expertly determining wine pairings for pork buns, ramen, and so much more for the Momofuku empire to launching Ramona, a grapefruit-tinged sparkling wine in a can, and Bellus Wines, a “socially and environmentally conscious wine company” with bottle labels worth framing.
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.
Callie Speer, Austin: Eater Austin’s 2017 Chef of the Year, pastry chef Callie Speer has had her hands in plenty of Austin restaurants. But it was her singular vision and drive to create a restaurant that eschewed ubiquitous trends — her “punk rock diner,” Holy Roller — with a charismatic all-female team that’s earning widespread praise.
Bobby Stuckey, Boulder: When it comes to wine, Bobby Stuckey is one of the country’s most influential authorities. As co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado; owner of his own label, Scarpetta; and the first-ever director of American Airlines’s wine program, the master sommelier has shaped the industry with an open, approachable attitude to wine that puts service and hospitality first.
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.
David and Tonya Thomas, Baltimore: With Tonya working the front of the house and David in the back as head chef, the Thomases have been celebrating modern soul food in Baltimore, first with Herb & Soul and now Ida B’s Table. Dedicated to the legendary African-American journalist and abolitionist Ida B. Wells, Ida B’s Table embraces African-American culinary history on the menu while opening its doors with projects benefiting local elementary schools and aspiring chefs of color.
Jamie Tran, Las Vegas: Chef and founder Jamie Tran earned a reputation in Las Vegas and beyond with Black Sheep, a Restaurant of the Year winner that defies Vegas stereotypes not only with its comfortable, intimate environment but also with outstandingly creative Vietnamese comfort food, executed with sophisticated techniques that elevate the restaurant beyond its strip mall space.
Ellen Yin, Philadelphia: In a city full of innovative restaurateurs, Ellen Yin was one of the first. Her Philadelphia restaurant Fork established a new standard for neighborhood bistros in the city back in 1997; her High Street Hospitality Group hasn’t stopped since, expanding to New York City and earning her a 2018 James Beard nomination for outstanding restaurateur.
Justin Yu, Houston: Justin Yu’s ability to capture the riotous diversity of Houston’s cultural influences and translate them though fine dining — first with a tasting menu at the beloved Oxheart and now at the more playful Theodore Rex — had made him an icon of the Houston food scene and a James Beard winner to boot.
Disclosure: Marcus Samuelsson will be the host of an upcoming show created by Eater and PBS. This does not impact coverage on Eater.