The 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars: Why They Shine

The 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Stars: Why They Shine

By Katherine Sacks with Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt

Shannon Sturgis and Antoinette Bruno

The Bay Area is a chef's dream, boasting some of the nation's best produce, artisans, and producers. It's a mecca for foraging wild edibles, and the dining community is equally eager to explore the culinary landscape —whether it's conceptual fine-dining or farmers market ramen. Organic is expected, and sustainability is law. So, to stand out from the crowd, restaurant industry stars have to be bolder and more skilled than ever.

With all these resources at their fingertips, Bay Area culinarians continue to push their limits. Some are hyper-focused on the elegant details, crafting unforgettable experiences planned months in advance. Others are merging haute cuisine with creature comforts, putting forth the food that represents them as chefs. And although the city still has its impressive roster of talented mentors and established restaurants, the area's young talent is breaking boundaries in food, cocktails, and service, reinforcing San Francisco's status as one of the country's top dining destinations.

In the last few months we tasted savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, and wine pairings from more than 100 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers, as well as coffee roasters, brewers, and artisans in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And 27 earned the distinction of Rising Star. What makes them shine?

Rising Stars have attributes that make them future leaders of the culinary scene. Put simply, they're not just surviving in the Bay Area restaurant industry, they're redefining it with exciting food, pours, and concepts. Without further ado, the San Francisco and Bay Area Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American cuisine.

Nick 	Balla

Chef: Nick Balla, Bar Tartine

A veteran of Japanese restaurants O Izakaya and Nombe, Nick Balla is a graceful chef, armed with spot-on technique and finesse with clean flavors. It might seem odd to describe Hungarian food as graceful, but Balla's Eastern European approach at Bar Tartine is just that—potato flatbread is lighter than air and silky dill-cured salmon melts in your mouth. Balla's global vision highlights the rustic dishes of his heritage, but his food isn't overwhelmingly hearty. Instead his bold dishes taste refreshing and bright. And we seriously applaud Balla's zeal in heading the kitchen at a wildly popular institution, taking on the challenge of changing its course, and keeping Bar Tartine a packed house.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Chopped Salad: Salami, Pepperjack, Red Wine Vinegar, and House Yogurt
  • Fisherman's Stew with Green Chili Broth, Collard Greens, and Hen of the Woods
Brett Cooper

Chef: Brett Cooper, Outerlands

Outerlands, with its beachy atmosphere and surfer dude customer base, is on the edge of town and the cutting edge of casual dining in San Francisco. Leading the effort is Chef Brett Cooper, who has discarded his plating tweezers (from his days at Rubicon and Coi) to bring his fine-dining experience to this laid back restaurant. Cooper has kept the attention to detail and product, but he looks through a more casual viewfinder now. The result is refined flavor, modern technique, and worldly inspirations presented in a leisurely, everyday sort of way. Dedicated to making things from scratch (think housemade umeboshi), Cooper has turned this former soup-and-sandwich spot into a true dining destination.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Slow-cooked Farm Egg, Curry-roasted Cauliflower, Chanterelles, and Parmesan
  • Red Trout, Sunchoke, Sprouted Nuts and Seeds, Thompson Grapes, and Preserved Meyer Lemon
Jacob	Des Voignes

Chef: Jacob Des Voignes, Local: Mission Eatery

The Mission may be one of the hippest restaurant districts in San Francisco, but it's still a neighborhood of locals at heart. Jacob Des Voignes celebrates the neighborhood tradition at his two restaurants, Local: Mission Eatery and Local's Corner, thanks to his comforting approach and dedication to San Francisco product. Along with wife Shauna, who runs Knead Patisserie, Des Voignes is committed to emphasizing the connection between food and land. He sources everything from local farmers (only dairy comes from purveyors) and spends weekends harvesting stone fruits, citrus, and tomatoes from the couple's small family farm in Lodi. This ethos, and Des Voignes's cuisine, will gain even more ground in the community with a forthcoming full-service grocery store.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Roasted Cauliflower, Kimchi, Yogurt, and Quinoa
  • Mussel Soup, Potatoes, Grapes, Fennel, Turmeric, and Watercress
Jason	Fox

Chef: Jason Fox, Commonwealth

For Jason Fox, being a chef is both a challenge and an outlet. He believes food is a teacher, something you constantly learn from, and cooking is a means of expression. This enthusiastic outlook shines through at Fox's Commonwealth, where he channels his energy into inventive cuisine. Modern techniques, refined tastes, and naturalistic platings converge within the approachable atmosphere of his Mission Street restaurant. While many of his dishes feel Mediterranean or Asian inspired, Fox says it's California's multicultural communities and the bounty they produce that really drive him. And the communities of San Francisco are so important to the Commonwealth crew that a portion of the restaurant's profits is donated to local charities, making Fox not only a tastemaker, but also a leader among his chef peers.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Scallop, Hearts of Palm, Popcorn Purée, and Yuzu Kosho Milk
  • Sweetbreads, Asian Pear, Brussel Sprouts, Black Truffle, and Chestnut-Celery Root Velouté
Duncan	Holmes

Chef: Duncan Holmes, Sons & Daughters

A true young gun, 26-year-old Duncan Holmes quickly ascended the culinary ranks to his current position as chef de cuisine of downtown's Sons & Daughters. And there's good reason: Holmes combines business savvy (an economics degree) with serious drive. He worked in some of the top restaurants in Northern California and Europe before coming on board at Sons & Daughters and helping the restaurant earn its Michelin star. In this venture, he presents sophisticated flavors and a compelling mixture of modern and traditional technique in a singular, whimsical plating style—we'll call it a nod to the Nordic (based on his time spent with Chef Mathias Dalhgren in Sweden). Holmes's food is mature and has a clear vision, and he's making an outsized mark on the San Francisco culinary scene.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Roasted Beets, Aromatic Spices, and Fresh Tarragon
  • Squab, Marcona Almond Butter, and Citrus
Jessica Largey

Chef: Jessica Largey, Manresa

In charge of one of the most formidable kitchens in the country, Chef de Cuisine Jessica Largey is a force in the Manresa kitchen, where she transforms an early appreciation for California's abundance and her mentorship under Chef David Kinch into dramatic cuisine. Whether she's harvesting produce with the restaurant's partner Love Apple Farms or foraging along the South Bay, Largey has a singular focus on unadulterated product. Her passion for the beauty of natural cooking and pure flavors drives the food here—she uses modern technique only when most suitable, and often crafts a dish around a single ingredient, coaxing unforgettable flavors out of the subtlest of elements. In a time where foraging and heirloom ingredients are commonplace, Largey's plates are compelling and exciting—and a preview of a storied and inspiring career in cooking.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Trombetta Squash, Pistachio, Nasturtium Oil, and Cultured Cream
  • Verbena-Chamomile Poached Sea Bream Collar with Pear-Celery Bouillon
Mark	Liberman

Chef: Mark Liberman, AQ

If there is any restaurant or chef that completely epitomizes San Franciscan dedication to the seasons, it's Mark Liberman, who creates a menu emphasizing the flavors of spring, summer, winter, and fall as AQ completely transforms each season (even the décor, service ware, and website change). His cuisine, founded in experiences working at Daniel and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, is a testament to his ingenuity with flavor, technique, and style. The group's forthcoming TBD restaurant, developed in partnership with fellow Rising Star Matt Semmelhack, will showcase another side of Liberman's diverse skill set through a menu of wood-fired cooking. And with the group's upcoming third and fourth projects (a brasserie and lunchtime market), San Francisco will continue to see and revel in what this talented culinarian has to feed the city.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Rabbit Mergeuz, Sweetbreads, Yellow Eye, and Carrot Harissa
  • Beef Short Rib, Black Garlic, Broccoli with Burnt Ends, and Cheddar
Evan Rich

Sarah	Rich

Chef: Evan Rich and Sarah Rich, Rich Table

Evan and Sarah Rich have decades of restaurant experience—the couple has worked in the best restaurants from New York (David Bouley) to San Francisco (Coi). They've paid their dues and then some. And with their recent launch of Rich Table, they have finally created their own space. After searching far and wide for the restaurant they wanted to pour their sweat and tears into, the Riches decided to build out a space that personified them, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign to engage the local community. The result is both grounded and sophisticated, a neighborhood space offering refined flavor and technique. The duo works seamlessly together in the restaurant's small open kitchen, executing an exciting menu based in the foundations of classical cuisine—think silky pastas and playful small bites—that has quickly landed them on the national dining map.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Lamb Tartare, Flat Bread, Shelling Bean Purée, and Olive Oil
  • Chicken Lasagna, Pumpkin Greens, and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Sean Baker

Sustainability: Sean Baker, Gather

In a city where sustainability is the standard, Chef Sean Baker and Gather stand out. Located in one of Berkeley's greenest buildings, Baker and his team pour their lives into sourcing and creating a genuinely green dining experience. But he doesn't do it for politic's sake. Diners are forefront as he crafts his nose-to-tail, root-to-shoot menu, serving vegans and their meat-loving counterparts with equal fervor. From top-notch charcuterie to vegetable finesse, Baker is making some of the most exciting food in the city. And he does it all through the lens of sustainability, working with Lindencroft Farms to source heirloom seeds, plan growing schedules, and harvest organic produce. Whether he's pressure cooking kale stems to make pasta or using the nasty bits of a whole animal, Baker finds creative ways to use it all for his inspiring cuisine.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Vegan Charcuterie: Scarlet Turnips, Mushrooms, and Cipollini Onions; Mutsu Apples, Wine Grapes, Walnut Juice, Lemon Verbena-Chili Jam, and House-made Lovage Saba; Smoked Cashew-Nettle Ricotta, Dragon Carrots, and Currants; Rugosa Verde Carpaccio, Shallots, Sunflower Seed Sauce, Pomegranate, and Fermented Sunchokes
  • Marinated Sardines, Burdock, Squid Ink, and Avocado
Mellisa	Root

Hotel Pastry Chef: Mellisa Root, Madera

Swirls of color, curlicues, polka dots, confetti. Mellisa Root's pretty desserts have you primed for a tea party, and this whimsical pastry chef's approach to grown-up flavor is as delicious as it is playful. As executive pastry chef at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel, Root has plenty of responsibilities on her shoulders. She creates inventive petit fours for room service, constructs jaw-dropping cakes and miniatures for the hotel's banquet rooms, and offers those swirly, elegant desserts at the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant Madera. The key to Root's success is having fun along the way while drawing inspiration from her favorite memories to create decadent treats.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Raspberry Gin Fizz: Gin Granita, Raspberry Fizz, and Lemon Crème-Freyo
  • Celebration of Plums: Friar Plum Fool, Candied Fruit-Pistachio Tea Cake, Compressed Plums, Golden Plum Cream, and Santa Rosa Plum Sorbet
Juan Contreras

Pastry Chef: Juan Contreras, Atelier Crenn

With his black plastic gloves and glimmer in his eye, Juan Contreras is a mad scientist. He wields chocolate, sugar, and spice to create some of the most trailblazing, mind-boggling pastry presentations we've seen. Contreras's puddings are thickened with low acyl gellan gum, calcium gluconate, and sodium hexametaphosphate, and he brews squash tea with a siphon vacuum pot. He spends months developing each eclectic dessert for the Atelier Crenn tasting menu, perfecting every detail, including the plate ware, which he crafts by hand from stones, foraged wood, glass, and plants. It's dessert as a fully fleshed out concept, challenging diners to rethink the idea of pastry and at the same time blowing them away with his delicious creations.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Beet-Chocolate Sorbet, Sheep's Milk Yogurt, Mandarin Purée, and Edible Flowers
  • Flavors of Squash: Spiced Brioche, Celery Root Ice Cream, Creamed Butternut Purée, Candied Squash, and Cinnamon Aroma
Stephanie	Prida

Pastry Chef: Stephanie Prida, Manresa

Stephanie Prida doesn't do subtle. Her intense charisma and curiosity shine in her desserts as she pushes the limits of texture, flavor, and form with her modern, naturalistic presentations. At David Kinch's Manresa, Prida's savory-leaning desserts (think mustard and tomato jam) are an extension of fellow Rising Star Chef Jessica Largey's savory courses—with sugar taking a back seat to inventive flavor combinations. Bite for bite, Prida's pastry is some of the most exciting and engaging in the country, and it's infused with the natural inspiration of California's excellent produce. Manresa is a true destination restaurant, and Prida's elegant desserts make it even more so as each day she serves the future face of pastry.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Mustard, Chocolate, Figs, and Tomato-Honey Ice Cream
  • Milk Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Milk Meringue, and Buttermilk
Matt	Tinder

Pastry Chef: Matt Tinder, Coi

Matt Tinder breaks all the rules. He doesn't quenelle. He won't serve you ice cream. He's even encroaching on the savory kitchen (Daniel Patterson's no less). And since working at Coi, Tinder has invented a whole new category of wild, inventive pastry. It's not a free for all—his dishes are composed and purposeful, like a delicate tower of dates, sesame, and yogurt—but he ignores form in favor of flavor and thinks well beyond his corner of the kitchen. Tinder has expanded his pastry program to include stocking the savory pantry with breads, butters, crème fraîche, tofu, and soymilk—ultimately encouraging a pastry-savory cross pollination that's led to an exchange of techniques, ideas, and mise en place. This sense of liberation and collaborative spirit proves that what you thought you knew about pastry doesn't matter any more. You're eating in Tinder's world, and you're going to like it.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Silken White Chocolate, Kiwi, Soy, and Coffee
  • Spice, Date, Sesame, and Yogurt
Ryan Farr

Artisan: Ryan Farr, 4505 Meats

Ryan Farr is out to change meat in San Francisco, and with his far-reaching 4505 Meats, he is poised to do just that. After selling chicharrónes to local bars, working the farmers market circuit, and offering a popular meat CSA, Farr recently opened his Mission Street butcher shop, where he puts the best quality meats and his carefully crafted salumi on display. Focused on whole animal utilization, Farr believes meat's flavor is directly tied to the quality of the animal's living conditions and feed. He sources from the best producers and takes the utmost care to control all steps of the process—from storing and delivering to preparation—so his rotating selection of meats, pâtés, terrines, and stocks from 4505 is impeccable. A Hayes Valley teaching space, along with his Whole Beast Butchery cookbook, helps spread the word.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Chicharrónes
  • Smoked Bologna
William Werner

Artisan: William Werner, Craftsman and Wolves

San Francisco is home to some of the nation's best bakeries and pastry shops—William Werner's Craftsman and Wolves among them. But Werner's new Mission District bakeshop is brewing exciting change in the world of French pâtisserie. Werner is both an experimental chef and brilliant designer—a true modern day artisan. His French finesse with desserts is pitch perfect, and mastering traditional technique has freed him to play with out-of-the-box flavors and presentations. The small shop is packed with contemporary, high-concept pastry—square cubes of cake yield ethereal flavors, contrasting textures, and sheer surprise. And every detail of the space, from the modern aesthetics to the airy windows, works in harmony to Werner's desserts—confections, éclairs, and cakes that will no doubt revolutionize the way we look at pâtisserie.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Semolina Cake with Caramel Corn Nuts
  • Chocolate Cocoa Nib Éclair
Yigit Pura

Concept: Yigit Pura, Tout Sweet Patisserie

After winning “Top Chef Just Desserts,” Yigit Pura poured his energy into his dream pastry shop, Tout Sweet. The bright colors, airy, modern décor, and jewel-like pastries are all influenced by Pura’s favorite things: his flower of choice (the rose), a Japanese sensibility, and the inspirational childhood book The Little Prince. It’s exactly the kind of shop you want to visit with your girlfriend or use to host a tea party—it’s inviting and fun and not at all snobby or precious. Pura has taken the traditional pastry shop and wrapped it in pretty, and he offers a gotta-hear-it story behind each dessert and aesthetic choice. We’re sold on Pura and his Tout Sweet brand, and it won’t be long before his playful pastries pop up in locations across America.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Tout Sweet French Macaron
  • Poached Organic Egg Sandwich with Braised Fennel and House Gougère
Richie Nakano

Community: Richie Nakano, Hapa Ramen

Richie Nakano was a man on a mission for healthy, vegetable-packed bowls of ramen in San Francisco. Disappointed by what he found, Nakano hunted down a shared kitchen space, developed his own organic noodle recipe, and started playing around with funky flavors and textures. Now, his delicious, umami-packed ramen not only meets his high standards (thanks to farmers market produce and modern techniques), but it's also bringing chefs and locals from all over the city to his Ferry Building stand, eager to queue up for a bowl. Nakano's lively personality is also a draw—he dishes advice to chefs starting pop-ups and regularly blogs (quite candidly) about the restaurant industry. Hapa Ramen's forthcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant—partially funded with the community's support and an impressive Kickstarter campaign—is guaranteed to be a melting pot for future chef ideas to stew.

Dishes that Clinched It:

  • Vegetarian Ramen: Sugar Pie Pumpkin and Miso Broth, Roasted Radicchio, Smoked Soy Sauce, Carrots, Arugula, and Slow-cooked Egg
  • Big Daddy Ramen: Fried Chicken, Braised Pork, and Slow-cooked Egg
Matt	Semmelhack

Restaurateur: Matt Semmelhack, Mercer Restaurant Group

After working in real estate consulting for years, Matt Semmelhack gave up the big paychecks and structure of corporate work to follow his passion: food. Teaming with fellow Rising Star Mark Liberman (thanks to a Craigslist.com posting, no less), Semmelhack launched his first restaurant, AQ, which follows the seasons through cuisine, décor, and service ware. Coming off the enormous success of AQ, Semmelhack's second and third projects are already in the works; TBD, focused on wood-fired cuisine is opening in mid 2013, along with the sandwich-and-salad focused Mélange Market. With even more expansion up his sleeve, the now-successful restaurant man is set to conquer his own corner of San Francisco, capitalizing on his business sense and enjoying his new life to the fullest.

Esteban Brunello

Sommelier: Esteban Brunello, Oliveto

Esteban Brunello is a soulful sommelier, pairing wines with feeling and serving guests with love. For the wine program at Oakland's Oliveto, he draws from a deep knowledge and passion for Italian wines (his name is Brunello, after all). Instead of using that knowledge to analytically pair for contrast, texture, and weight, he pours wine from the depths of his intuition (built in part working with 2010 San Francisco Rising Restaurateur Star Shelley Lindgren at SPQR). At Oliveto, Brunello takes great care to pour outstanding, reasonably priced wines alongside Chef Jonah Rhodehamel's robust Italian cuisine. Guests come first for Brunello, and with each pairing, he offers diners the chance to learn the soul of a sommelier.

Pairings that Clinched It:

  • Antipasto of Slow-roasted Winter Vegetables with Green Garlic-Carrot Top Pesto with 2010 Nascetta Elvio Cogno
  • Tortelloni of Castelmagno Cheese and House-made Ricotta, Sage, and Honey with Camigliano 2010 Sangiovese Grosso, Rosso di Montalcino
Bobby Conroy

Sommelier: Bobby Conroy, Benu

Bobby Conroy left his native East Coast for the opportunity to work with 2009 Napa-Sonoma Rising Star Sommelier Yoon Ha and pour wines at one of the most compelling restaurants in San Francisco, Benu. Not only is he loving California, but he's also hit his stride: not long after his move, Conroy aced his Advanced Sommelier certification and is set to sit for the Master exam this summer. Conroy likes to match flavors, complementing rather than distracting from cuisine, and looking to pair not only taste but also body. That approach helps him seamlessly guide guests through the detailed cuisine of Chef Corey Lee and Benu, deftly pairing with bright flavors, strong spices, and everything in between.

Pairings that Clinched It:

  • Hokkaido Sea Cucumber stuffed with Lobster, Pork Belly, Cucumber, Eggplant, and Fermented Pepper with Schloss Schönborn, Riesling Kabinett, Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg, Germany 2003
  • Pear Juice-braised Beef with Winter Treasures with Chateau Fortia, Châteauneuf-de-Pape, Rhône Valley, France 2009
Scott Baird

Josh Harris

Mixologist: Scott Baird and Josh Harris, Trick Dog

Jointly known as The Bon Vivants (their consulting company), Scott Baird and Josh Harris are a duo with their fingers on the pulse of San Francisco revelers. From concept to drink creation, this tag team works hand-in-hand, whether it's sussing details for their new bar shop, The General Store, working behind the bar at their Mission watering hole, Trick Dog, or concocting avant-garde drinks for one of the many events they plan and host nationwide. Harris is the marketing maestro with a strong understanding of the lure of a drink. Baird is the thoughtful chemist, balancing drinks by focusing on their natural sugar levels and concocting whimsy in a glass. Together it's a powerful pair, taking the nation's drinking culture by storm.

Drinks that Clinched It:

  • Polar Bear: Pierde Almas Puritita Mezcal, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and Tempus Fugit Crème de Menth
  • St. Elmo's Fire (2763): Denizen White Rum, Amaro Averna, Pineapple, Coconut Vinegar, Allspice, and Lime
Matt Conway

Mixologist: Matt Conway, formerly of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

Pre-Prohibition and roaring 20s aside, for Matt Conway there is no better time than the present to be a mixologist, thanks to the wealth of artisan product now on the market. And Conway takes those products—usually only three or so at a time—and crafts cocktails that are both intriguing and complex. His simple recipes don't make simple cocktails, though. Conway is all about balance in sugar and alcohol, layered flavor, and just the right amount of acid to create easy sipping and smooth drinks. We'd expect nothing less from this Absinthe alum, who worked alongside some of San Francisco's finest barkeeps at the city's most hallowed of mixology dens. Having departed Absinthe in January, Conway is set to open his own bar later this year—and showcase his incredible talent and style at what we anticipate will be a new standard bearer for West Coast cocktails.

Drinks that Clinched It:

  • Pegleg: Kaffir Lime Vodka, Gentian Liquor, Pineapple Gum, and Citrus
  • St. Martin: Calvados, Cardoon Amaro, and Dry Vermouth
Adam Lamoreaux

Brewer: Adam Lamoreaux, Linden Street Brewery

Brewer Adam Lamoreaux drips with intensity. After departing from the Navy, Lamoreaux filled his career void by devoting his life to beer and the brewing traditions and beer drinking community of Oakland, California. Almost single-handedly, Linden Street Brewery is reviving the brewing scene in Oakland, and Lamoreaux's creating beers that are quickly becoming engrained in the city's fabric. And that's without any marketing. Lamoreaux doesn't push product through distributor networks or make sales calls. Restaurants phone him for brews like his Urban People's Common Lager, along with private label beers, which he hand delivers two kegs a time ... on a bicycle. If his successful chef collaborations and impeccable brews are any indication, he may soon have to upgrade to a semi.

Drinks that Clinched It:

  • The Town Lager
  • Black Lager
Colby Barr

Ryan O'Donovan

Roasters: Colby Barr and Ryan O'Donovan, Verve Coffee

Colby Barr and Ryan O'Donovan connected over coffee more than 15 years ago, as college students at Chico State. When O'Donovan approached Barr about starting a roasting company, they continued their coffee voyage together and opened Verve Coffee in 2007. Emphasizing transparency and quality, the duo regularly travels the globe meeting with farmers and developing relationships that help supply them with an impressive collection of rare, single-origin beans. Verve produces a coffee that is rich, vibrant, and smooth, earning the company a fiercely loyal customer base and international attention. And from their roastery in Santa Cruz, the company is set to take over the coffee world, staying fully committed to finding, roasting, and serving the best coffee in the world.