Los Angeles Rising Stars: Why They Shine

Los Angeles Rising Stars: Why They Shine

So much has changed in Los Angeles since we first came to town to taste, explore, and search for Rising Stars a decade ago. Chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, and beverage professionals are transforming a jaded entertainment industry mecca into an eminent American food city with soul and swagger. New chef blood is infiltrating former food deserts and rough neighborhoods, drawing in fickle L.A. diners, creating foot traffic, and injecting life and flavor into communities.

The L.A. city limits haven’t expanded, but the food world within them has. And while there are more soul-satisfying and intriguing options, there’s less trend in America’s trendiest city and more honest cooking—many times inspired by the warm, hospitable heart of the South. The Third Wave of coffee has also washed over this staunchly Starbucks city. And the streets are irrigated with spirits as cocktail culture crests in L.A., hitting a historically high water mark set by the next generation of bartenders—with many female mixos taking center stage.

From grandma desserts to the avant garde, L.A. has also become a pastry powerhouse and the most fertile ground for young talent in the country. Across the board, the Rising Stars of the City of Angeles are uplifting, enlivening, and invigorating their food scene. They’re bringing authenticity and honesty to a plastic city, showing how the restaurant industry can lead an entire metropolis—even one with a prominent Hollywood sign. So without further fervor, here are the 2014 StarChefs.com Los Angeles Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine.

 

Chef: Cole Dickinson, Ink

Cole Dickinson’s food messes with your mind. At Ink, he takes the familiar and stretches it, delivering that magical Goldilocks combination of warmth, comfort, and complexity. But don’t think for a minute that he’s serving updated, elevated comfort food. Dickinson isn’t interested in following that trend—or any of the nation’s culinary whims for that matter. In a city that’s obsessed with what’s hot and right now, he holds fast to a style that’s all his own, blending French, Asian, Italian, and bold American ideas into some of the most jaw-dropping dishes in the country. By not trying to be or cook like anybody else, Dickinson is primed to be one of the next break-out stars of American cooking.

Dishes that clinched it:

Mediterranean Octopus, Kelp Pasta, and Fennel

Cereal: Amaranth, Fried Egg, Goats Butter, and Chicken Cracklings

Chef: Brian Dunsmoor, The Ladies' Gunboat Society

The Hart and the Hunter is a passion project of a distinctly Southern variety. Thousands of miles away from the region that gave America barbecued oysters, Lowcountry boil, and cathead biscuits, Chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga are serving tradition and down-home goodness to ultra-hip L.A. A little over a year into their success, the duo has big Southern expansion plans, and they’ve got the grit(s) to make them happen. (Look out for a meat and three and an oyster bar in the next few years.) Best of all, they serve casual, family-style food y’all want to eat every day, meaning they’ve got the staying power to feed a newly Southern-enamored L.A. for years to come.

Dishes that clinched it:

Barbecued Gulf Oysters, Chile-Garlic Butter, Parmesan, and Bread Crumbs

NOLA-style Shrimp Boil, Blue Crab, Smoked Sausage, Corn, and Potatoes

Chef: Kris Tominaga, Hart and the Hunter
Chef: Ori Menashe, Bestia

Ori Menashe’s Bestia is not the quintessential Los Angeles restaurant—it’s his love letter to L.A. And he not only loves L.A., he loves the people, and that shows in his food. Menashe’s cuisine isn’t flashy—it is fine, focused, and just familiar enough to get his guests eating gizzards and lamb hearts. He draws from the entire rim of the Mediterranean, making his own breads, pastas, pizzas, and crafting Bestia’s immense charcuterie program. His dedication to whole animal and whole vegetable cookery is whole-hearted. And Menashe’s food, his restaurant, and the experience they create aren’t trendy. They’re transcendent, making Bestia a beacon for personal, intimate dining—an expression of the soul of a chef in the City of Angels.           

Dishes that clinched it:

Chicken Gizzards, Roasted Beets, Belgian Endive, and Capra Sarda

Cavatelli alla Norcina: Ricotta Dumplings, House-made Pork Sausage, Black Truffle, and Grana Padano  

Chef: Niki Nakayama, n/naka

Sozai o Mamoru means “to protect an ingredient.” Niki Nakayama does this with elegance, sophistication, and fierceness at her kaiseki restaurant N/Naka. She is at the beck and call of what nature has to offer, bringing her intuition, spontaneity, care, and restraint to every dish. And yet every bite at N/Naka is luxurious and indulgent. Her aesthetic is pure and unadorned, allowing the natural beauty of the ingredient to shine. Nakayama cooks with confidence, pairing unexpected flavors. She believes in her ideas and takes chances—like introducing Italian technique to Japanese tradition. In kaiseki, Nakayama has found her voice: rich, playful, boundless, exquisite. In Japanese food-lore, the turnip holds future fortunes. The fortune for American kaiseki is in Nakayama.      

Dishes that clinched it:

Japanese Scallop, Santa Barbara Uni, Yuzu, and Sea Salt

Shiizakana: Abalone Liver Sauce, Sliced Monterey Abalone, Spaghettini, Burgundy Truffles, and Pickled Cod Roe

Chef: Bryant Ng, The Spice Table

Bryant Ng’s cuisine is bold. And it’s about sharing—interacting with your food and your dining partner with nothing in between but a whole stone crab. That’s the essential spirit of a Bryant Ng restaurant. Ng’s personal mission is to share Southeast Asian foods with Los Angeles and elevate those food traditions to the prominence of other Asian cuisines. His hearty, spicy, vibrant, addictive dishes draw from Singapore and Vietnam—Ng wants to take you there. A third generation restaurateur, Ng is dedicated to pushing palettes, himself, and his culinary inheritance. He wants his guests to explore while he provokes, surprises, then comforts them, introducing his take on Southeast Asian food in America. 

Dishes that clinched it:

Jellyfish Salad, Shredded Chicken, Crispy Rice, Green Leaf Lettuce, and Sesame-Bacon Dressing

Salted Duck Egg-Crab Bee Hoon: Whole Stone Crab, Dungeness Crab Meat, Thin Rice Noodles, Pea Sprouts, and Chiles

Chef: Atsushi Takatsuki, M.B. Post

Atsushi Takatsuki is having fun in the kitchen, cooking soulful, Japanese-inspired food at David Lefevre’s MB Post. Takatsuki draws inspiration from his elders—mentors like François Payard, Michael Mina and Lefevre, but especially his mom and dad, whom grow exotic vegetables for their son’s mise en place. And the lessons Takatsuki has learned in cooking and life have come to define his philosophy: eating should be fun and shared with people you love. Instead of flash and pomp, he wants to connect to his diners on an emotional level by taking the simplest of foods—from childhood, travel, or a gutteral memory—and making them irresitable. It’s a style that puts diners first, and Takatsushi is among a rarefied group of chefs cooking, every day, from the heart and soul.

Dishes that clinched it:

Pig Tail-Shrimp Tail Dumplings, Black Sesame, Ruby Streaks, and Chile Oil

Pomegranate Couscous, Lavender Feta, Marcona Almonds, Grapefruit, and Mint

Chef: Ari Taymor, Alma

Ari Taymor’s food is intense and unusual. And his mission is clear: to give Los Angeles diners flavor combinations and experiences unlike any other. Taymor puts himself onto every plate of his tasting menu, and walking into Alma is like entering Taymor’s mind. He plays with technique like a child explores his toy chest, and he applies his imagination to build compositions until you have a veritable fortress of flavor waiting to be picked up by your fork. Even though he lit up the L.A. dining scene in a flash, he takes his time. Taymor cuts no corners, even making the butter at Alma. He knows when to call on his arsenal of skills and ideas, and when to use restraint—the true test of any great chef. Alma is an eight-table example of how to inject genuine culinary excitement into a jaded city.      

Dishes that clinched it:

Ember Roasted Chicken Consommé, Trout Roe, and House-made Shallot Crème Fraîche

Slow Roasted Mishima Ranch Beef, Koji-fermented Young Turnips, Truffled Walnuts, Fresh Wasabi, and Mustard Frills

Chef: Jonathan Whitener, Animal

Jonathan Whitener makes the kind of joyful, personal, habit-forming American soul food that’s both appealing to today’s diner and the very stuff that nostalgia is made of. He can remind you of the childhood in France you never had. Or transport you to the Dirty South, or to Japan for your very fist visit. Whitener is a Californian chef who pairs unusual flavors in simple yet daring preparations. He knows what’s in your heart, soul, and in your grandmother’s pantry. And even though his food connects with guests, he still zigs when you think he’s gonna zag, and sometimes pops a wheely. His versatility and generosity make him an inspiration to younger chefs. He’s constantly evolving, drawing guests back to Animal just to see what’s next.    

Dishes that Clinched It:

Toad in the Hole: Truffle, English Pea, French Ham, and Cheddar Mousse

Braised and Fried Rabbit Leg, Carolina Gold Rice, Lemon Pepper, and Sour Cream Gravy

Community: Kiowa Bryan, Eveleigh

East Coast transplant Kiowa Bryan is the quintessential L.A. bartender. From her start at the SoHo House, honing technical skills with city mentor Chris Ojeda, to her current post at the ranchy, breezy, Eveleigh on the Sunset Strip, she’s been feeding off of—and into—the roots of a rapidly evolving cocktail scene. Bryan started City of Angeles Share, a collective of bartenders that gathers to share ideas and work on projects—like building a pre-Prohibition still. She also supports fellow women bartenders as a Speed Rack Competitor and member of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails). From fundraisers to friendships, Bryan cultivates cocktail community, and she’s at the top of her game, helping lead the city that adopted her.

Drinks that clinched it:

Bols On Parade: Bols Genever, Tío Pepe Fino Sherry, Lemon Juice, Pistachio-Lavender Orgeat, Egg White, and Angostura Bitters

Kentucky Beet Down: Vanilla-roasted Beets, Sea Salt, Lemon, Honey, Ginger, and Four Roses Bourbon

Community: Jessica Koslow, Sqirl

Food sank into Jessica Koslow’s bones and wouldn’t let go. After establishing success for her restaurant, Sqirl, in East Hollywood, she’s giving that deep, meaningful connection back to her community. Koslow’s food is nourishing and stick to your ribs, and she wants to make sure more Angelinos can eat that way. Koslow looks at food deserts that pock-mark L.A. and gives back by bringing in local foods, teaching cooking classes, and pumping money into product instead of rent in a more glamorous neighborhood. She’s also the kind of human who believes she can always do more. As testament to her passion, Koslow is active in Edible School Yard, Bakers Will Bake, Farm On Wheels, and Sustainable Kitchen, and she’s opening a market with local foods and provisions in fall 2014—giving her one more way to share good food with the good people of Los Angeles.

Dishes that clinched it:

Sorrel Rice Bowl: Heirloom Brown Rice, Sorrel Pesto, Poached Egg, Preserved Meyer Lemon, Hot Sauce, Radish, and Feta

Khabbouleh: Kale, Brown Rice, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Curants, Aleppo Pepper, Sumac, Scallions, and Pomegranate

Sustainability: Miles Thompson, Allumette

Miles Thompson not only pushes boundaries inside his kitchen but also outside, with his deeply rooted belief in sustainability and conscious cooking. His soulful cuisine embraces the unexpected all while using ingredients that are grown close to home. Thompson is devoted to creating a holistic dining scene in every respect. He works directly with farmers for sourcing, composting, and oil recycling projects. Family meals are made up of usable recycled trim, and the by-products of former dishes are re-imagined into components of new ones. A veteran of restaurants like Animal and Son of a Gun, Thompson proves that exquisite food is naturally aligned with sustainability and neither has to be sacrificed in the pursuit of excellence.

Dishes that clinched it:

Gnocchetti, Wood Pigeon Ragù, Ubriacone Cheese, and Croutons

Blue Prawns, Pasilla Chile, Guanciale, and Almonds  

Pastry Chef: Carlos Enriquez, Patina Restaurant Group

If you eat out in LA, chances are you’re eating Carlos Enriquez’s pastries. Overseeing close to 30 outlets as corporate pastry chef for the Patina Restaurant Group, Enriquez is a key player in the SoCal pastry scene, and he’s using his influence to further the art of pastry on every level. From cafes to fine dining and gala events, Enriquez draws on his Hispanic roots, French training, and Golden State environs to fluidly and gracefully craft desserts fit for each varied setting. Recently that’s meant developing gluten-free and vegan sweets for everyone from image-obsessed celebrities to health-conscious hipsters. And he does it all by drawing on the combined talents of his many under chefs, nurturing their careers and learning from their diverse perspectives as he does. 

Dishes that clinched it:

Blackforest Cake, Caramelía Namelaka, Kirsch Cherries, and Mascarpone Gelato

Budino Cappuccino, Chicory Pudding, Crème Fraîche, Banana, and Vanilla 

Pastry Chef: Kei Hasegawa, Matsuhisa

Kei Hasegawa, a Rising Star pastry chef from the Land of the Rising Sun, has an approach to pastry that's equal parts reverence for time honored traditions and unabashedly whimsical improvisation. He’s on a mission to bring Japanese pastry to his American audience. He does so in such a playful manner, deftly combining Japanese ingredients with French techniques for the American palate, that it seems positively effortless. But there’s no denying the carefully honed talent that goes into executing his dishes—it’s even more impressive considering that Hasegawa trained himself in much of it. And even as he expands the limits of his own knowledge, he is broadening the horizons of American pastry with the introduction of Asian ingredients.

Dishes that clinched it:

Green Tea Shaved Ice, Adzuki Beans, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Shiratama Mochi

Winter Wonderland: Dark Chocolate Cream, Mango-Passionfruit Sorbet, Chocolate Soil, Coconut Snow, Caramel Foam, and Yuzu Cream

Pastry Chef: David Rodriguez, Providence

David Rodriguez made all the right choices. He worked in L.A.’s best kitchens with mentors any chef would dream of: Michael Cimarusti, Adrian Vasquez, Jordan Kahn. And from their kitchens, with hard work and immense talent, he’s emerged as one of the country’s most exciting pastry chefs. Rodriguez has style, so much so that his elegant, sensuously plated desserts look like they’re straight off the runway with bold lines, colors, and textures. There’s substance in his flavors, too. Rodriguez pulls from the savory playbook, lacing his sweets with the likes of sunchokes, carrots, and shiso. Each dessert is a timeless capsule of harmonious flavor, presentation, and technique—there’s no element overwrought or out of place. Rodriguez has the depth and finesse of a pastry master and mentor in the making.

Dishes that clinched it:

Candied Sunchoke, Fried Sunchoke, Sunchoke Ice Cream, Spiced Genoise, Valrhona Dulcey Crémeux, and Cocoa Nibs

Mont Blanc: Almond financier, Crème Fraîche Mousse, Crème Fraîche Sorbet, Vanilla Meringue, Chestnut Jam, and Sable

Artisan: Charlie Habegger, Handsome Coffee Roasters

Well hello there, Handsome. There’s a new face on the L.A. coffee scene: Charlie Habegger. He’s the Oakland-born, Intelligentsia-trained director of coffee at Handsome Coffee Roasters, where he selects beans, leads a roasting team, and serves as tastemaker for one of the city’s most dynamic coffee operations. Habegger is a coffee minimalist who believes the easiest way to fall in love with joe is to let it speak for itself. And in a no-rules market like L.A., he’s free to set standards and share the inherent delicacy and nuance in every batch of coffee Handsome produces. Where others might see a nascent, divergent coffee market, Habegger sees opportunity to catapult Los Angeles and Handsome into the national coffee consciousness.

 

Artisans: Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada, Lindy & Grundy

Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura are meat mamas on a mission. At their old-fashioned butcher shop in Fairfax, they do custom cuts, dry-aged beef, and even kimchi sausages. Firm believers in sustainable farming and animal rights, they put as much consideration in to finding the right cattle ranches and farmers as they do in to wielding their cleavers and curing meats. With their devotion to whole animal butchery and prime quality, they’ve created a culinary conversation in a town that doesn’t usually think about where its meat comes from. With their apprenticeship program, meticulous attention to every part of the process, and over-the-counter conversations that start as pleasantries and quickly become intimate tête-à-têtes, Posada and Nakamura are bringing heart and soul back to the meat market. 

Dishes that clinched it:

Mortadella

Noix de Jambon

Artisan: Nicole Rucker, Gjelina Take Away

On an epic road trip through the American South, Nicole Rucker filmed a documentary, won a blue ribbon at the National Pie Championship, and met plenty of proud pie people. Back home, Rucker is sharing a slice of Southern soul with Los Angeles from Gjelina Take Away and making L.A. a little more Mayberry. There’s science in her soul, too. Rucker has geeked-out and nerded–up over her recipes, demonstrated most masterfully in her bien cuit pie crusts. She’s churning out cakes, cookies, biscuits, tarts, and pies that make guests weak in the knees—their fall cushioned by butter. Rucker is L.A.’s Southern mama and Gjelina is its windowsill. An L.A. without Rucker is like the South without pie.    

Dishes that clinched it:

Pork and Peas Pie

Sorghum Biscuits with Date Butter and Strawberry Jam

Concept: Alvin Cailan, eggslut

Among other skills, time spent staging at Mugaritz, Noma, Bouchon, French Laundry, Castagna, and Spago taught Chef Alvin Cailan how to make exceptional—dare we say perfect—soft scrambled eggs. But instead serving said eggs (and flaunting his gastronomic pedigree) within the hallowed halls of fine dining, Cailan’s peddling egg sandwiches from Eggslut, a stall in Grand Central Market. His most expensive menu item is $10, but if diners are looking for elevated Denny’s, what they’re getting instead is a 62°C egg, Robuchon-style potatoes, and sea salt. It’s that level of care and attention with which Eggslut is redefining what it means to be a chef-driven, fast-casual restaurant—one that Cailan is planning to unleash in locations across Los Angeles.

Dishes that clinched it:

The Fairfax: Soft Scrambled Eggs, Caramelized Onions, Sriracha Mayonnaise, and Brioche Bun

The Slut: 62°C egg, Whipped Potatoes, Chives, and Grey Sea Salt

Bartender: Devon Tarby, HoneyCut

Devon Tarby mixes some seriously stunning cocktails. At Honeycut, her drinks exude the energy and weather of L.A.—they’re sensual and feminine with just the right bitter backbone and high acid notes. With sleight of hand, Tarby mixes and blends to precision, finding a satisfying balance, taking traditional formats and manipulating them with ease and elegance, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Today as a partner at Proprietors LLC, she travels across the globe, educating the next generation of bartenders (she’s taught 15 Russian bartenders some nifty tricks sans an interpreter!) Not one for believing in dos-and-don’ts, Tarby is pushing boundaries, ambitiously taking L.A. mixology to the next level.

Drinks that clinched it:

Four to the Floor: Campo de Encanto Pisco, Giffard Pamplemousse, Verjus Blanc, and Dolin Blanc Vermouth

Crop Top: Beefeater 24 Gin, Amaro Montenegro, Giffard Pamplemousse, and Fresh Lemon Juice

Sommelier: Rob Harpest, Bouchon

Not too many professionals make the leap from Outback Steakhouse to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, but Sommelier Rob Harpest’s thirst for wine knowledge has taken him from strip mall steaks to the apex of fine dining. Harpest has been through the service juggernaut (with the Luxe and Morton’s on his résumé), and he’s come out warm, charming, and seriously knowledgeable. He exudes joy for wine and service—in its challenges and endless opportunities. Within the confines of Bouchon’s strictly French menu, Harpest takes diners for unexpected turns, pairing a lush bubbly Cremant d’Alsace with bouillabaisse or slipping in an American Farmhouse Ale (don’t tell the folks in Napa). Harpest brings fun and enthusiasm to the table, and it’s served him well in his steady ascendance to the top of the Los Angeles wine scene.

Pairings that clinched it:

Charcuterie board: Chicken Liver Mousse, Pâté de Campagne, Ventreche, Cacao Nib Saucisson, Copa, Loma, and Green Peppercorn Salumi paired with Great Divide "Collette" Farmhouse Ale

Bouillabaisse: Daily Market Fish, Cherry Tomatoes, Fennel Bulb, Roasted Peppers, and Shellfish Bisque paired with Brut Blanc de Blancs, Cremant d'Alsace, Lucien Albrecht, Alsace, France, NV

Sommelier: Taylor Parsons, République

Talyor Parsons knows when to stand up to a dish and not back down. He knows compliments will get you everywhere. He also knows that the best volcanic wines on Mt. Etna are in the windy areas, where the grapes get a break from the heat—he’s that kind of wine geek! Parsons tastes wines with his eyes, mouth, heart, skin, to the tips of his hair follicles. And then he wants you to have the same joyous, invigorating experience that he’s had. Parsons is a chef’s best friend, another sauce in the kitchen, another weapon in his arsenal that accentuates, highlights, and elevates the meal. He’s a bearded, cardigan-wearing, stealth wine paring machine. You’ll never know what hit your mind, body, and soul. Parsons rocks République.         

Pairings that clinched it:

Mary’s Organic Rotisserie Chicken, Red Russian Kale, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes paired with Pinot Noir, The Hermit, Francis Tannahill, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA, 2008

Smoked Columbia River Steelhead Crostini, Avocado, Cucumber, and Radish paired with Bianco 'Ante' Carricante/Minnella,/Grecanico, I Custodi delle Vigne dell’ Etna, Sicily, Italy, 2010 

Restaurateur: Jeff Mahin, Stella Barra Pizzeria /M Street Kitchen

With seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, Jeff Mahin has thrown himself into food with a gusto that has taken him far at the fresh-faced age of 30. Mahin clocks in at 17 years of professional experience, the last two of which have seen him open four businesses in partnership with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Ask him about a favorite topic, like bread, and you’ll be bowled over by a deluge of technical knowledge and contagious zeal. It’s this true love of his medium, plus his dedication and highly scientific methodology, which enable him to churn out superlative products in any setting—from the Michelin-starred kitchens of his past to his current pizza and doughnut joints. Mahin has already accomplished great things, and he has a whole lot of restaurant left in him.

Dishes that clinched it:

Parmesan Cream White Pizza with Bloomsdale Spinach, Kale, Pecorino, and Garlic Confit

Shaved Mushroom White Pizza, Gruyère, Melted Onions, Black Truffle, Torn Parsley, Fried Rosemary, and Dehydrated Thyme